Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Strong As An Ox

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 8, 2011

Based on the concept that an ox is a very strong animal, the cliché “strong as an ox” is well-known but not used as often as one would think.

It certainly packs a certain punch when used, such as in the article by journalist Paul Wiseman published in USA Today on December 28, 2009 where the headline read “Texas’ banks are strong as an ox.”

The cliché has been a favourite of some established writers, whether we’re talking novels or cartoon scripts. In fact, in 1946 when Foghorn Leghorn burst on the animated scene, he was oftentimes heard uttering characteristic catch-phrases such as “the gal reminds me of the highway between Forth Worth and Dallas — no curves” and “that boy’s as strong as an ox, and just about as smart.”

In Chapter 9 (How The Wogglebug Taught Athletics) of “The Emerald City of Oz” written by L. Frank Baum and published in 1910, Baum wrote:

“It’s a fine thing,” declared Aunt Em, admiringly. “If we’d had it in Kansas I guess the man who held a mortgage on the farm wouldn’t have turned us out.”

“Then I’m glad we didn’t have it,” returned Uncle Henry.

“I like Oz better than Kansas, even; an’ this little wood Sawhorse beats all the critters I ever saw. He don’t have to be curried, or fed, or watered, an’ he’s strong as an ox. Can he talk, Dorothy?”

Almost 100 years before that, James Fenimore Cooper wrote “Imagination and Heart” published in 1823 where readers find:

“I guess he is–he’s as strong as an ox, and active as a cat,” said the other, determined he should pass.

“Well, then,” said the aunt, in her satisfied way, “let every thing be ready for us in Albany by next Tuesday. We shall leave home on Monday.”

The cliché goes back for centuries, all the way back to Psalm 92 of the Christian Bible and translates as follows:

You have made me as strong as a wild ox; you have blessed me with happiness.

It appears this way in a number of languages including French (“Et tu me donnes la force du buffle; Je suis arrosé avec une huile fraîche”), Spanish (“Pero tú has exaltado mi poder como el del búfalo; he sido ungido con aceite fresco“) and Italian (“Ma tu mi dài la forza del bufalo; io son unto d’olio fresco”).

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