how the cow ate the cabbage

how the cow ate the cabbage

1. The unadulterated truth about something; the way something really is. Said especially of a truth that someone does not want to hear or acknowledge. Usually used after "tell." Primarily heard in US. The boss keeps thinking the company's going to somehow break even without making a lot of layoffs and cutbacks. Someone's just got to tell him how the cow ate the cabbage. A: "I want my parents to start taking better care of themselves, but I don't want to hurt their feelings." B: "Look, if it means giving them a few more years of life, then don't be afraid to tell your parents how the cow ate the cabbage."
2. A lesson about the proper way in which things should be done, especially when demonstrated through discipline or retribution. A less common usage, it is usually used after "show." Primarily heard in US. We're going to send our troops in there and show those rebel scum how the cow ate the cabbage. We need some red-blooded politicians to get into Washington and show them lily-livered bureaucrats how the cow ate the cabbage.
See also: ate, cabbage, cow, how