The term “cash cow” has its origins in the exploitative dairy industry, mainly in the west. It implies that the cow is nothing more than a source of “easy money” because cow = dairy + meat. The term implicitly carries the sentiment that the cow is not a sentient being, but merely a product in a business process. Unfortunately, now this term is used the world over, even in India, where “Goumaata” or “Mother cow” was a normal term. How the mother cow became the cash cow is discussed in the book Cownomics. The process of this conversion has more than 150 years of history to it, as explained in the book.
But “cash cow” is not the only such term. There are plenty.
“I have no beef with you”, “Where’s the beef?” —originated in the television commercial for a hamburger chain (1984), implying that competitors had not enough beef in their hamburger. This then became a metaphor for not having any substance. Also implies that there is no argument.
“Beef up”—Implies beef as a source of strength or power.
“Don’t be a cow”—implies that the cow is stupid, dull or too naïve.
Surprisingly, many vegans use these terms as well, without knowing the real context or connotation of these terms. Not to nitpick or anything, but language and semantics do matter. What we normalize matters. What we demonize also matters. At the end of the day, language is the biggest weapon that is used to introduce, tear down or propagate ideas—and propaganda. Advertising industry would not exist if language and semantics and ideas did not matter. After all, they convince millions of people that meat and dairy are a good thing. So then it only makes sense that they also introduced several terms into our everyday parlance that promote beef as a good thing, and cow as a dumb animal who is only an object in a big food chain. Nothing is as incidental as we think.
So, while these terms can’t be banned, it is important to note where they come from and refrain from using them, since they indirectly or implicitly promote practices which harm animals and the world.