shoot the bull

shoot the bull

noun Slang.

  1. exaggerations; lies; nonsense.
  1. shoot the bull, to talk aimlessly: We just sat around shooting the bull.


  1. the Bull the constellation Taurus, the second sign of the zodiac


  1. John . 1563–1628, English composer and organist
  2. See John Bull


  1. any male bovine animal, esp one that is sexually matureRelated adjective: taurine
  2. the uncastrated adult male of any breed of domestic cattle
  3. the male of various other animals including the elephant and whale
  4. a very large, strong, or aggressive person
  5. stock exchange
    1. a speculator who buys in anticipation of rising prices in order to make a profit on resale
    2. (as modifier)a bull market Compare bear 1 (def. 5)
  6. mainly British short for bull’s-eye (def. 1), bull’s-eye (def. 2)
  7. slang short for bullshit
  8. short for bulldog, bull terrier
  9. a bull in a china shop a clumsy person
  10. shoot the bull US and Canadian slang
    1. to pass time talking lightly
    2. to boast or exaggerate
  11. take the bull by the horns to face and tackle a difficulty without shirking


  1. male; masculinea bull elephant
  2. large; strong


  1. (tr) to raise or attempt to raise the price or prices of (a stock market or a security) by speculative buying
  2. (intr) (of a cow) to be on heat
  3. (intr) US slang to talk lightly or foolishly


  1. a ludicrously self-contradictory or inconsistent statementAlso called: Irish bull


  1. a formal document issued by the pope, written in antiquated characters and often sealed with a leaden bulla

“bovine male animal,” from Old English bula “a bull, a steer,” or Old Norse boli “bull,” both from Proto-Germanic *bullon- (cf. Middle Dutch bulle, Dutch bul, German Bulle), perhaps from a Germanic verbal stem meaning “to roar,” which survives in some German dialects and perhaps in the first element of boulder (q.v.). The other possibility [Watkins] is that the Germanic root is from PIE *bhln-, from root *bhel- (2) “to blow, inflate, swell” (see bole).

An uncastrated male, reared for breeding, as opposed to a bullock or steer. Extended after 1610s to males of other large animals (elephant, alligator, whale, etc.). Stock market sense is from 1714 (see bear (n.)). Meaning “policeman” attested by 1859. Figurative phrase to take the bull by the horns first recorded 1711. To be a bull in a china shop, figurative of careless and inappropriate use of force, attested from 1812 and was the title of a popular humorous song in 1820s England. Bull-baiting attested from 1570s.


“papal edict,” c.1300, from Medieval Latin bulla “sealed document” (source of Old French bulle, Italian bulla), originally the word for the seal itself, from Latin bulla “round swelling, knob,” said ultimately to be from Gaulish, from PIE *beu-, a root supposed to have formed words associated with swelling (cf. Lithuanian bule “buttocks,” Middle Dutch puyl “bag,” also possibly Latin bucca “cheek”).


“push through roughly,” 1884, from bull (n.1). Related: Bulled; bulling.


“false talk, fraud,” Middle English, apparently from Old French bole “deception, trick, scheming, intrigue,” and perhaps connected to modern Icelandic bull “nonsense.”

Sais christ to ypocrites … yee ar … all ful with wickednes, tresun and bull. [“Cursor Mundi,” early 14c.]

There also was a verb bull meaning “to mock, cheat,” which dates from 1530s.

In addition to the idioms beginning with bull

  • bull in a china shop
  • bull session

also see:

  • cock and bull story
  • hit the bull’s-eye
  • shoot the breeze (bull)
  • take the bull by the horns

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