“OLD HOGAN’S GOAT”
“OLD HOGAN’S GOAT”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
There is a saying that has been around for many a year concerning Hogan’s Goat, generally in reference to something foul or messed up. Several friends asked me to research the origin of this phrase. Generally one can find just about anything on the internet these days, but not much exists about Hogan’s Goat. I did locate enough information to share which may be of interest to most readers.
In1855 a European goat farmer named Hoek Hogan raised a particularly disgusting goat. Hoek loved this goat, even though it smelled particularly bad. It was said that the goat could be smelled from almost a half mile away. It also had a terrible temper and would charge man, beast, or even machinery.
Apparently the goat was so smelly and ugly that people remember it today honoring the poor creature with the phrase “Hogan’s Goat”, which they use to refer to something that has been screwed up beyond all recognition.
It seems that a cartoonist, R. F. Outcault, was so intrigued by this famous goat that he came up with a cartoon about the goat and its shenanigans which he called Hogan’s Alley which debuted in 1895. However, the strip lasted only one year and the name was changed to The Yellow Kid in the following issues.
Various references to “Hogan’s Goat” can be found throughout the early 20th century, usually in reference to a person named Hogan. The earliest metaphorical reference found is in the “Washington Post” on April 9, 1940. It read as follows – “The fans will love it. They don’t know a thoroughbred from Hogan’s Goat”.
Outcault’s comic strip also gave rise to an expression quite popular in the armed forces, particularly the Navy. An old Navy descriptive phrase in the “World War II Times” at some point late in the war stated: “An old Navy descriptive phrase for total confusion is fouled up like Hogan’s Goat. This is an accurate account of a PBY early wartime patrol that was, indeed, fouled up like Hogan’s goat, and therein lies a tale.”
A song from an unknown writer from the mid 1800s appears to have helped keep the saying alive. The words to the song are:
Old Hogan’s Goat,
Was feeling fine.
He ate my shirts right off the line.
I took a stick,
And beat his back,
And tied him to a railroad track.
A speeding train,
Came speeding by,
Old Hogan’s Goat was sure to die.
He gave a shriek,
A shriek of pain.
Coughed up the shirts and
Flagged down the train!
Despite the dismal circumstances that seem to be present in the use of this particular phrase, the story of Hogan’s Goat is a story of long odds. It is a story of survival, punctuated by humor and irony. So, the next time you hear someone make the statement, “this is fouled up as Hogan’s Goat”, you will have some idea of its background and meaning. I should mention that over the years the phrase has sometimes been changed to, “fouled up beyond any recognition”, or as some simply say “ FUBAR”!
Some over the years have suggested that the television program “Hogan’s Heroes”, which aired from 1965 to 1971, was based very loosely on the activities and antics of Hoek Hogan and his famous goat. If you recall the program it was about American airmen, led by Col. Bob Hogan, who were prisoners in the German Stalag 13 camp. The camp’s leader, Col. Klink, was always getting his plans fouled up, and things seldom went right for the Germans. They were constantly being outfoxed by the Americans with their covert operations.
“Hogan’s Heroes” theory may or may not be true, but the similarities are interesting. So, there you have my take on the phrase “Hogan’s Goat”.