It turns out that the phrase originally came from Scotland in the 1700’s. Some sources say that, "brown cow" was a phrase that used to mean a barrel of beer because a barrel of beer is brown and ungainly like a cow. Other sources said "brown cow" just referred to the beer and that people could order another beer by saying, "How now brown cow."
More recently, "brown cow" can refer to a root beer float (i.e. vanilla ice cream floating in root beer soda). The phrase, "How now brown cow" has been used as a pronunciation exercise (like "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain"). It has also been used as a playground chant in some parts.
I find it interesting how I still remember this chant after so many years… "How now brown cow!"
An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: Illustrating the Words in Their Different Significations, by Examples from Ancient and Modern Writers; Shewing Their Affinity to Those of Other Languages, and Especially the Northern; Explaining Many Terms, Which, Though Now Obsolete in England, Were Formerly Common to Both Countries; and Elucidating National Rites, Customs, and Institutions, in Their Analogy to Those of Other Nations: to which is Prefixed, a Dissertation on the Origin of the Scottish Language, Volume 1 (1808) by John Jamieson.
Speaking of Animals: A Dictionary of Animal Metaphors (1995) by Robert Allen Palmatier.
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