Billy Joy’s cow
(phr.) like Billy Joy’s cow, to claim control of something that you actually have no control over at all
If you have hold or control of something like Billy Joy’s cow, then you have no control over it whatsoever, despite all your assertions that you do.
That’s an expression seemingly little heard since the late nineteenth century, when it was first recorded in a handful of Lincolnshire dialect glossaries before finding its way into a volume of County Folk-Lore in 1908.
According to the tale behind it, Billy Joy was a young Lincolnshire yeoman, who was sent one morning to Caistor cattle fair near Grimsby to buy a cow. He tied one end of a rope around the cow’s horns and the other around his waist, and having sealed the deal began to lead his purchase out of the fair and along the narrow lane home.
This all took place at the height of summer, however, and as the day grew hotter the cow became ever more desperate for a drink. Eventually, they came to a small stream known as Cabourne Dyke, and on spotting the water the cow suddenly bolted and hauled its way over to the water to cool down.
Much to the amusement of a crowd of passers-by, the cow also succeeded in hauling Billy Joy into the dyke as well—despite his repeated calls that “I’ve got her yet, I’ve got her yet!”