It's a complete goat rope.

My wife and I were trying to figure out where this phrase came from and why it’s associated with something that’s a complete mess. Wiki isn’t much help. My take is that it’s a polite version of “It’s a clusterfuck” (which, by the way, doesn’t make any sense either), and it’s amusing because of the image of someone roping goats. Also, I recall using the phrase to poke fun at C&W music fans: goat-roper music, as opposed to bull rider, calf roper, shit kicker (another puzzler), etc.

So I turn to the Dope to enlighten us as to the etymology of this quaint phrase. Any clues?

I’ve never heard it used that way, but I went to high school where a lot of people were in agriculture. The farm kids were called ‘goat ropers’. (We also had Jocks, of course, and ‘Loados’ – the kids who drank and used drugs.)

Clusterfuck makes sense. This thing got fucked up, that thing got fucked up, these three other things fucked up. The whole event was a clusterfuck.

Might be “goat rope” refers to the act of roping goats which, IMHO, is not nearly as difficult as herding other critters like cats. Or, might be it refers to the fact that if you put a head lead rope on a goat it will chew on it (more so than a sheep or a cow might), and turn the rope into a soggy wad.

I got nothing.

All sources seem to agree that it’s US military in origin. Which doesn’t surprise me given that this is where I first heard “Alabama Dick Dance” “Dog & Pony Show” and “Cluster F***.”

It has similar meaning to SNAFU or some other disaster, but it also requires a degree of pointlessness. A pointless exercise gone awry is a goat rope. There are plenty of theories abounding about why a goat in particular, my opinion is that “goat” is code for “difficult” and derives from terms like “goat trail” which refers to a poorly defined and unmarked road. Different web dictionaries declare that goats are pretty docile and shouldn’t be hard to get a rope on; goat roping is an event in childrens’ rodeo, which is pointless, or even that the phrase is a corruption of goat rape (which I doubt). Like as not, “Goat Rope” just has a funny ring to it, like “Alabama Dick Dance” or “Brain Rape.” Military folks are always trying to come up with curious lingo to break the monotony. It’s an odd society with an often bizarre sense of humor. As anyone who’s ever had to keep a straight face when getting a drill sergeant ass-chewing can tell you, there is an unspoken requirement in the military: You need to be able to laugh at the horrible, and endure the best comedy with a straight face.

I’ve heard it used in a litany of bizarre events and happenings, all leading up to the “…but I ain’t never seen nothing like this” which is meant to convey that the audacity or awfulness of the thing being referred to is spectacularly stupid, ill-conceived or unworthy of respect.

Example, “I been to a hog-calling, a chicken-pulling, a goat-roping, a Chinese fire drill and a Texas barn dance, but I ain’t never seen nothing like this.” (As I recall this was in reference to some newly proposed parking scheme in an already confusing parking lot. Uttered by the Texas-born-and-bred building supervisor where I worked.)

I first heard the expression in the military, went along with a goat ropers hat, which is a cowboy hat with the sides rolled up and the back and front rolled down.

Why a goat in particular? I always figured it was because roping steers is a man’s job, but goats are where you send the chumps who can’t take both hands and get one finger up there own ass, at least that’s how we used it.

At Microsoft the term is “goat rodeo”, meaning pretty much the same thing (clusterfuck). I always associated it with kids’ events at rodeos, because they 1) are performed by the inept, 2) are frantically chaotic, and 3) hilarious if you’re not involved.

Related kid-oriented rodeo hilarity: mutton busting.

I have also heard the less polite term “goat fuck” to describe a SNAFU. Which is useful when someone is interfering with your work. You can tell them, “I’m fucking this goat, let go of the horns.” Gotta love military slang.

Or its reverse: “I’m not part of this goat fuck, I’m just here to hold the horns.”

As suspected, there doesn’t seem to be any definitive answer. It would also seem that Inigo Montoya came about as close as I’m going to get. What the hell is an Alabama Dick Dance? 23 years in the military and I never heard that one.

I wonder if it started in the Navy. Chiefs are known as Old Goats. The CPO club is traditionally known as The Goat Locker. Just thinking out loud.

As others said, it’s most lilkely military in origin. It shows up in prited cites there from the 1960s/70s.

Goat rope being the more polite form of “goat fuck.”

Interesting aside: the man who graduated last in his class at West Point, starting about 1900, was called “the goat.”

Thirty years back I worked with a guy who regularly called me (and others) a goat-roper. Never asked him just what he meant - I can recognize a general insult when I hear one, and that was definition enough for me.

I’m inclined to see a cowboy origin of the term, so I’d go with outlierrn’s take (tho’ I gotta add, Wouldn’t real men rope bulls, not steers? Just a thought for all you shit-kickers out there).

I had a Marine officer explain clusterfuck to me this way:

Marine: you know what the F in SNAFU is?
me: sure
Marine: you know what a clusterbomb is?
me: yeah
Marine: every bomblet in a clusterfuck is a righteous SNAFU all by its lonesome
me: ah…

While the military no doubt appropriated the “clusterfuck” to mean a SNAFU, it originally was used, just like it sounds, in the 1960s to refer to group orgies.

** samclem’s** meaning is how I’ve always understood it. Lots of stuff is happening but it’s unorganized and you never know when it’s over.

I nominate this for Post of the Day!

As opposed to non-group orgies? :dubious:

I have never heard this one before, but I am so going to use it.

When Al Goldstein the publisher of Screw Magazine wrote about orgies he referred to them as the art of the clusterfuck. That somehow sticks with me.

And in the context of “more than enough nonsensical fooling around seemingly just for the hell of it” it fits pretty much how the military uses it.