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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Riding the goat" -- followup

Blog reader Greg Williams has commented on my recent post on the Cheyenne idiom "Are you riding the goat?"
Ok, I cheated & did a search on Yahoo. At first I just put in "riding the goat" & thought it was related to some Masonic ritual, but then I added Cheyenne & found a site listing several of their idioms. I'm interested in learning how this was derived since I never would have guessed it. Is there some quirk in Cheyenne divorce law where the wife always gets the horse?
Well, Greg, if it helps your conscience any, I don't think you cheated. I think you were clever to use a search engine. I suspect you found one of my webpages on Cheyenne idioms.

If a Cheyenne husband was separated from his wife, someone could ask him, in Cheyenne, "Are you riding the goat?" Cheyennes have never literally ridden goats. But when a husband and wife were on the outs, husbands would often travel elsewhere by hitching a free ride on one of the Great Northern railroad cars that would come through on the railroad not too far from where Cheyennes lived. On the side of those cars was a big logo of a goat. So "riding the goat" referred to riding on a railroad car with a goat logo. Figuratively, it evoked the entire linguistic "script" of being on the outs with your wife.

If someone has "gotten off the goat," things have been patched up with his wife.

So, now you know the rest of the story!

I would never have been able to figure out this idiom just from knowing the meaning of the Cheyenne words which make up the idiom. And that is the translation point: idioms are unique to a language, and translation professionals say that they usually cannot be translated literally from one language to another without their original idiomatic meaning being lost, which, of course, is a form of inaccurate translation.



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