Chew The Cud: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
August 11, 2023

The phrase "chew the cud" means to think carefully about something for a long time. If someone says, "I need to chew the cud on this," they mean they need time to think more about it before making a decision.

In short:

  • "Chew the cud" literally refers to the process where certain animals chew food that returns from the stomach for further digestion.
  • Figuratively, it means to ponder or reflect on something deeply, akin to thinking something over.

What Does "Chew the Cud" Mean?

Literally, "chew the cud" refers to the process of further chewing partially digested food. This is a part of the digestive routine for certain animals, such as cows and sheep. They regurgitate food from their stomachs back into their mouths and chew it once more before swallowing. This process is also known as ruminating.

Figuratively, it connotes deep or reflective thought. This occurs when individuals wish to deliberate on an idea, problem, or memory. They revisit it in their minds and carefully consider it before deciding or taking action. This process is also referred to as meditating.

Key aspects of the idiom's meaning:

  • "Chew the cud" literally refers to the unique digestive process found in some animals, such as cows and sheep. They chew their food, swallow it, and then regurgitate it to chew again, aiding in digestion.
  • On a figurative level, "chew the cud" means thinking deeply about something, mulling it over, or reflecting on an idea or thought. It's like mentally chewing on an idea to understand it better.
  • The phrase emphasizes the act of careful consideration, much like the slow and methodical process of a cow chewing its food.
  • You can use it in a sentence like, "The offer seems too good to be true; let's chew the cud and figure out what's the catch.
  • Other ways to express this idea might include "pondering," "reflecting on," "thinking over," or "mulling over."

Where Does "Chew the Cud" Come From?

The term "chew the cud" has roots in both biology and ancient texts. Its literal meaning refers to the process of rumination in certain animals, and its figurative meaning has been shaped by this physical act.

Historical Example

"They should not be asked to swallow the Act of 1902 in a mouthful, and then chew the cud slowly hour after hour and week after week. "

- R. Bagshaw, The Parliamentary Debates, 1804 

The metaphorical use of the phrase seems to have been influenced by this deliberate and repetitive action, drawing a parallel between the thorough digestion of food and the deep contemplation of thought.

10 Examples of "Chew the Cud" in Sentences

To better understand when and how to use this idiom, here are some examples from different contexts:

  • After the meeting, she needed some time alone to chew the cud before making a decision.
  • Searching for the right answer, he chewed the cud and finally found a solution.
  • Chewing the cud on that problem overnight helped her come up with a brilliant solution.
  • On the heels of the announcement, the team chewed the cud to decide the next steps.
  • Even though he's retired, he still likes to chew the cud about his past projects.
  • In the evening, farmers can see cows in the fields chewing the cud, a normal part of their digestion process.
  • Before committing to this significant career move, take your time and chew the cud.
  • If the issue continues to bug you, take some time to chew the cud and understand what's really bothering you.
  • When you're unsure about a big life decision, it's wise to chew the cud rather than act impulsively.
  • Before carving anything in stone, it's wise to chew the cud and carefully consider all options.

Examples of "Chew the Cud" in Pop Culture

This phrase has also found its place in pop culture, symbolizing deep reflection or contemplation.

Let's explore some examples:

  • Jesse Turkington, the writer of Meditations for a Bible study in Salem, Oregon, uses the phrase to illustrate the biblical concept of meditation. He likens the process of meditation to how cows chew their food, regurgitate it, and chew it again. He writes, "People 'chew' on thoughts similarly to how cows chew the cud.
  • In the book "A Description of the Nature of Four-Footed Beasts," some chapters specifically discuss horned beasts that chew the cud.
  • A playful use of the phrase "chew the cud" appears in "The Publishers' Circular and Booksellers' Record," where it is used in a literary context. The line reads, "There's nothing there for me, so I'm Shoved out to chew the cud.
  • In an article titled "Chewing the Cud" from Ministry Magazine, the phrase is examined in relation to Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Chew the Cud"

The phrase "chew the cud" is certainly unique, but there are other ways to express the same thought, especially in its figurative sense.

Here are some alternatives:

  • Think it over
  • Ponder
  • Reflect on
  • Mull over
  • Contemplate
  • Ruminate
  • Consider carefully
  • Deliberate
  • Mediate on
  • Analyze

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Chew the Cud":

  • What does "chew the cud" mean?

"Chew the cud" means to think deeply about something, pondering or reflecting at length. It can also refer to the actual process in cows and other ruminants where they chew partially digested food.

  • How can I use "chew the cud" in a sentence?

You can use it to describe someone who's deep in thought or reflection. For example, "She sat by the window, chewing the cud about her future plans." Or "Life's big decisions often require you to chew the cud before making a final choice.

  • Is "chew the cud" a modern expression?

No, "chew the cud" is an old expression. It's been used since the Middle Ages to describe the process in ruminant animals, and later as a metaphor for deep thinking.

  • Can I use it in a casual conversation?

Yes, you can use "chew the cud" in casual conversation to talk about thinking over something or discussing it at length.

  • Is it specific to any culture or region?

"Chew the cud" is mainly used in English-speaking cultures. It might not be easily understood in regions where English is not widely spoken.

  • Can animals actually chew the cud?

Yes, animals like cows and goats chew the cud as part of their digestion process. They regurgitate partially digested food and chew it again.

  • Is this phrase used in literature?

Yes, authors and poets often use the phrase "chew the cud" as a metaphor for contemplation or deep reflection.

  • Is it a positive or negative expression?

"Chew the cud" is generally neutral. It simply describes a process of thinking or the natural act of a ruminant animal chewing.

  • Can it be used in a professional setting?

While it's more commonly used in casual contexts, it can be used in professional settings as a colorful way to describe thinking or deliberating over something.

  • Is chewing the cud the same as mulling over?

Yes, "chewing the cud" and "mulling over" are similar in meaning. Both express the idea of thinking deeply or considering something at length.

Final Thoughts About "Chew the Cud"

"Chew the cud" is a lively expression that describes deep thinking or the unique digestion process in certain animals.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Chew the cud" can add flavor to a conversation, making it more vivid and engaging.
  • People use this phrase in various contexts, from casual chats with friends to literary works.
  • It's not about a quick decision. It's about taking your time, pondering things, and then coming to a conclusion.

Whether you're talking about a philosophical debate or watching cows in a field, "chew the cud" is a versatile phrase with roots in both nature and human contemplation.

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