SOW YOUR WILD OATS
Meaning: 'to conduct oneself foolishly' It usually refers to a young man frittering his time away in fruitless dissipation, or to the prolific sexual activities of a young man.
Origin: The wild oat (Avena fatua) is a common tall plant that looks like its relative the cereal plant oat, but is really a pernicious weed that infests the fields and is difficult to eradicate.
Farmers have since ancient times hated it because it’s a weed that’s useless as a cereal crop, but its seeds have always been difficult to separate from those of useful cereals and so tended to survive and multiply from year to year. The only way to remove it was to tramp the fields and hand-weed it. Even today it’s still a problem, despite modern seed cleaning and selective weedkillers.
The uselessness of wild oats has been known since ancient times and for almost as long we have had the expression to 'sow wild oats, The expression has been traced back to the Roman comic Plautus in 194 B.C. and was probably used before him. The saying is first recorded in English in 1542, in a tract by the Norfolk Protestant clergyman Thomas Becon. In the 16th and 17th century dissolute or wild young men were called 'wild oats." From Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, of 1869: “Boys will be boys, young men must sow their wild oats, and women must not expect miracles”.
From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)
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