When someone finds the position they pridefully took on an issue is seriously wrong, we say it’s time for them to ‘eat crow.’ Where did the idiom come from?
The idiom eat crow is a popular Southern expression. But people who aren’t from the South may struggle to interpret.
That’s the point of idioms. They are expressions that carry unique meaning in context. But outside of their context, they may confuse far more than they inform.
In one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite TV shows, the idiom pops up as the final joke of the half-hour.
In the “Opie’s Charity” episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Sheriff Andy Taylor can’t figure out why his son Opie only gave 3¢ to a charity drive for underprivileged kids. He scolds Opie for being so stingy. Then Opie says he’s saving to buy his girlfriend something. Andy will have none of this. He further admonishes Opie for being selfish.
But Andy never asks specifically what Opie wants to buy. Instead, he assumes it’s a toy. When finally given the chance, Opie explains he’s saving his money to buy the girl a winter coat. Her family, it turns out, can’t afford to buy her one. She is one of the very underprivileged kids the drive might help!
Upon learning this piece of information, Andy is embarrassed that he jumped to conclusions. In the last scene, Opie asks what they’re having for dinner. Andy’s response:
Well, you and Aunt Bee are having fried chicken. And I’m havin’ crow.
So why do we say someone in the wrong should ‘Eat Crow’?
According to Merriam-Webster, to “eat crow” means to “admit that one was wrong” or to accept defeat.
Idioms Online claims the phrase has been around since the early 1800s. But Grammarist puts the phrase as showing up in about 1850, possibly inspired by a Saturday Evening Post article.
In any case, as a carrion eater, which is enough to make eating it seem unappealing to some people. Presumably, no one would want to eat crow, unless, of course, they’re very hungry.
The unpleasantness of such a meal mirrors the unpleasantness of being proven wrong and having to admit your mistake.
Along with crow, similar phrases refer to eating dirt or eating humble pie.
But they all have the same point in mind.