Get Your Goat

This idiom, which originated in America, is one of the few animal idioms with the word goat and the only one that seems to be somewhat common in spoken English. Its origin is somewhat of a mystery although one theory has it that the source is to do with horse racing.

Meaning of Idiom ‘Get Your (or someone’s) Goat

To get someone’s goat means to annoy or irritate them.

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This idiom is often employed when talking about something that annoys us, rather than about a specific incidence.

It is used often in the following phrases:

(something) really gets my goat
doesn’t that get your goat?
just trying to get someone’s goat

Examples Of Use

“I was stuck in traffic for an hour and everyone was honking their horns the whole time. That really gets my goat.”

“Someone butted in front of me in line at the grocery store today,” said Janet. “Oh, doesn’t that get your goat?” replied Beth.

“I don’t know what to tell you. Adam just gets my goat. The guy just annoys me.”

“Darrel keeps using my coffee cup even though I’ve told him over and over to stop.” “He’s just trying to get your goat. Ignore it and he’ll stop doing it.”


As already mentioned, the true origin of this American idiom is unclear. While anyone would be annoyed if someone took or ‘got’ their goat, why the expression uses goats in particular, instead of any other domesticated animal, is uncertain. According to H.L. Mencken, however, this idiom comes from the practice of placing a goat in a racehorse’s stall as a stable companion to help keep the horse calm. If the goat was removed or stolen just before a race, the horse would become nervous and thus to ‘get someone’s goat’ was an act of sabotage against the race, since the horse would use all its energy expressing its tension and irritation. However, the idea that having a racehorse’s goat stolen somehow passed into common figurative use is without evidence and somewhat farfetched.

It has also been suggested that the idiom comes from the French phrase prendre la chevre meaning “take someone’s goat.” This French idiom means to take someone’s last resource, so is not similar at all to the English idioms get someone’s goat. Another suggested idiom, quite silly, is that the idiom was originally ‘get someone’s goatee,’ referring to a small pointed beard called a goatee. There is no evidence to support any of these origin stories.

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