Every time I use the word “idiom” I have to check the definition to be sure I’m using it correctly:
Idiom: a figure of speech established by usage that has a meaning not necessarily deductible from those of the individual words.
One such idiom: “That really gets my goat.”
Or, “That statement really got John’s goat.”
Of course, I don’t have an actual “goat” for someone to “get,” and neither does John.
What the idiom means is to bother or annoy someone. So, “That really bothered me” or, “That statement really annoyed John.”
I was curious about the origins of getting my/his/someone’s goat, and while I found a lot of information online, none of the writers seemed certain of where the phrase came from.
This writer, for instance…
…wrote more than 500 words about the topic, only to conclude at the end,
“In short, we don’t really know it comes from. Do you have any ideas?”
While this website:
“This expression comes from a tradition in horse racing. Thought to have a calming effect on high-strung thoroughbreds, a goat was placed in the horse’s stall on the night before the race. Unscrupulous opponents would then steal the goat in an effort to upset the horse and cause it to lose the race.”
I thought that sounded plausible, but this writer:
Said, or rather, sneered at the horse racing story:
“That’s just the sort of tale that gets the folk etymology juices running. Let’s just say that there’s no evidence to support that story.”
The catalyst for my curiosity was this recent headline:
This “goat” was referencing both the idiomatic “get their goat” and the literal – the U.S. Naval Academy football team’s mascot is a goat, which appears in both animal form and human-as-animal form:
The goat’s name is Bill, and according to the Times article, Bill is “the 37th in the line of goats of various breeds to hold that distinction” over the last 70 years.
The “Army Cadets” in the headline refers to people enrolled at United States Military Academy West Point, also known as Army West Point or just West Point.
West Point also has a mascot – mules, also in two forms:
According to the West Point website:
“The tradition began as a response by the academy when the Naval Academy adopted the goat as its mascot. Mules, the obvious choice for our mascot, had served in the Army for generations by hauling gear for our soldiers. The Mules today are Ranger III and Stryker, and they are cared for entirely by the cadet Mule Riders. One Mule Rider is chosen from each incoming class of cadets, making of a team of four that care for them every day.”
And, again according to the Times, there’s a tradition of West Point cadets stealing the Naval Academy’s mascots and vice versa:
“Army cadets have stolen Bill at least 10 times, beginning in 1953…Navy midshipmen once nabbed the Army’s mule mascots as well.”
Score: West Point 10, Naval Academy 1.
“The pranks, euphemistically called ‘spirit missions,’ are generally timed to precede the annual Army-Navy football game, where both sides’ mascots are expected to appear.”
This year, the annual Army-Navy football game is December 11.
With the game date approaching, clearly someone had to kidnap something.
Thus the Times headline, “Army Cadets Tried to Get Navy’s Goat, Again.”
This all sounds like your typical college pranks, ha, ha, West Point stole the Navy’s goat!
And I suppose it was.
Except for two things:
The first, said the Times, is that “Officially, mascot stealing is forbidden by a high-level formal agreement signed in 1992.” The Times provided a link to the document, and here it is, in part:
“Will not be tolerated.”
I’d call that unequivocal – wouldn’t you?
And yet, says the Times, with regards to the kidnapping activities:
“…leaders of the schools have never been able to stamp them out. And privately, the military leaders that forbid the missions at times have also chuckled with glee.”
That New York Times headline said, “Commanders Were Not Amused,” but it appears that the opposite is true.
So we have cadets deliberately and with much forethought disobeying that almost-20-year-old Memorandum of Agreement, and their superior officers laughing about it?
This does not elevate my confidence in our military and its operations.
Here’s the second thing, and it also does not elevate my confidence:
The current cadets and their strategic and leadership skills.
We’ve established that over the pre-Thanksgiving weekend, the kidnappers from West Point got the Naval Academy’s goat.
Now let’s talk about the fact that it was…
The wrong goat:
“West Point raiders reconnoitered a private farm near Annapolis, MD and tried to sneak up to the paddock where the current goat mascot, a young angora with curly white wool, was pastured with others, including at least one retired Bill.
“The noisy assault team spooked the goats into a run, though, and when the fumbling cadets gave chase, they managed to grab only one goat – and not the right one. After a four-hour drive back to West Point, they unveiled not Bill No. 37 but Bill No. 34, an arthritic, 14-year-old retiree with only one horn…”
The “noisy” and “fumbling” “West Point raiders” couldn’t tell the difference between a goat with one horn and a goat with two horns?
I found this Times observation especially disturbing:
“…both service academies have tried to keep the incident quiet. While many military leaders privately admire the ingenuity and determination needed to swipe a mascot, they do not like how it looks in public – especially when animals get hurt.”
The good news is that retiree Bill No. 34 was unhurt and returned safely and on the following Monday.
The bad news is that it appears the military leaders not only didn’t object to, but admired what the cadets did.
They objected only when the kidnapping-the-wrong-goat story went public.
And it did, in both civilian and military media outlets – a few of many examples:
And though the story was a grand opportunity for jokes – “Feeling sheepish” in the Daily Beast, “They took the wrong kid” from Military.com, and “Get Navy’s Goat” in the Times…
I’m not laughing.
- Military cadets knowingly violated a rule, which indicates a lack of discipline and respect.
- Military leaders appear both unable and unwilling to enforce the rule, which indicates pretty much a lack of everything.
- My tax dollars, which right now I’m not feeling warm and fuzzy about spending.
I did some research and confirmed that cadets at both West Point and the Naval Academy get a four-year free ride, courtesy of us taxpayers, in return for a commitment to serve in the military following graduation.
That free ride includes tuition, spending money, room, board, medical and dental care.
And of course, all sorts of spiffy outfits at West Point, like these:
And, of course, these:
Which costs us taxpayers plenty, according to a 2015 article in the Bangor Daily News:
“It officially costs around $205,000 to produce a West Point graduate, although a 2002 Government Accountability Office (GAO) put the cost at over $300,000; officers at the Naval Academy are minted for $275,000.”
In 2020, 1,113 cadets graduated from West Point. Multiply that by $300,000 = $333,900,000.
In 2020, 1,017 cadets graduated from the Naval Academy. Multiply that by $275,000 = $279,675,000
And that West Point cost for just one cadet was over $300,000 almost 20 years ago…
What is it now?
To educate, feed, clothe and house some – let’s be frank – bozos who were so good at breaking the rule, but so bad at planning and carrying out a simple kidnapping, and then couldn’t even discern the difference between a one-horned goat, and a goat with two horns?
This does not bode well for the success of future military missions.
Now, I’ve never given much thought to our military academies – they’ve always just been there. West Point since 1802, and the U.S. Naval Academy since 1845.
And while we’re naming military academies – the Coast Guard Academy since 1876, the Merchant Marine Academy since 1943, and the Air Force Academy since 1954. And though we’re doing just fine without a Space Force Academy, there are those who are agitating for one.
And there are those who are agitating to get rid of all of them, like this writer:
“But they [military academies] are not the hallowed arbiters of quality promised by their myths. Their traditions mask bloated government money-sucks that consistently underperform. They are centers of nepotism that turn below-average students into average officers. They are indulgences that taxpayers, who fund them, can no longer afford. They’ve outlived their use, and it’s time to shut them down.”
I’m not suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bathwater (idiomatic expression) and close all the military academies because some inept West Point cadets stole a goat, and the wrong goat at that.
But when I think of what we taxpayers are on the hook for, well…
You know I have to say this:
So, in an effort to assist the cadets at West Point on their future kidnapping forays – unless, of course, their superiors crack down and start enforcing that “kidnapping will not be tolerated” rule…
Here’s a visual aid to help the cadets in their goat selection: