cowsay man page

cowsay/cowthink — configurable speaking/thinking cow (and a bit more)


cowsay "Hello world!"

echo "Hello!" | cowsay -f dragon

cowthink -s "I'm just a cow, not a great thinker ..."


cowsay [-e eye_string] [-f cowfile] [-h] [-l] [-n] [-T tongue_string] [-W column] [-bdgpstwy]


Cowsay generates an ASCII picture of a cow saying something provided by the user. If run with no arguments, it accepts standard input, word-wraps the message given at about 40 columns, and prints the cow saying the given message on standard output.

To aid in the use of arbitrary messages with arbitrary whitespace, use the -n option. If it is specified, the given message will not be word-wrapped. This is possibly useful if you want to make the cow think or speak in figlet(6). If -n is specified, there must not be any command-line arguments left after all the switches have been processed.

The -W specifies roughly (where the message should be wrapped. The default is equivalent to -W 40 i.e. wrap words at or before the 40th column.

If any command-line arguments are left over after all switches have been processed, they become the cow's message. The program will not accept standard input for a message in this case.

There are several provided modes which change the appearance of the cow depending on its particular emotional/physical state. The -b option initiates Borg mode; -d causes the cow to appear dead; -g invokes greedy mode; -p causes a state of paranoia to come over the cow; -s makes the cow appear thoroughly stoned; -t yields a tired cow; -w is somewhat the opposite of -t, and initiates wired mode; -y brings on the cow's youthful appearance.

The user may specify the -e option to select the appearance of the cow's eyes, in which case the first two characters of the argument string eye_string will be used. The default eyes are 'oo'. The tongue is similarly configurable through -T and tongue_string; it must be two characters and does not appear by default. However, it does appear in the 'dead' and 'stoned' modes. Any configuration done by -e and -T will be lost if one of the provided modes is used.

The -f option specifies a particular cow picture file (“cowfile”) to use. If the cowfile spec contains '/' then it will be interpreted as a path relative to the current directory. Otherwise, cowsay will search the path specified in the COWPATH environment variable. To list all cowfiles on the current COWPATH, invoke cowsay with the -l switch.

If the program is invoked as cowthink then the cow will think its message instead of saying it.

Cowfile Format

A cowfile is made up of a simple block of perl(1) code, which assigns a picture of a cow to the variable $the_cow. Should you wish to customize the eyes or the tongue of the cow, then the variables $eyes and $tongue may be used. The trail leading up to the cow's message balloon is composed of the character(s) in the $thoughts variable. Any backslashes must be reduplicated to prevent interpolation. The name of a cowfile should end with .cow, otherwise it is assumed not to be a cowfile. Also, at-signs (“@”) must be backslashed because that is what Perl 5 expects.

Compatibility with Older Versions

What older versions? :-)

Version 3.x is fully backward-compatible with 2.x versions. If you're still using a 1.x version, consider upgrading. And tell me where you got the older versions, since I didn't exactly put them up for world-wide access.

Oh, just so you know, this manual page documents version 3.02 of cowsay.


The COWPATH environment variable, if present, will be used to search for cowfiles. It contains a colon-separated list of directories, much like PATH or MANPATH. It should always contain the /usr/share/cowsay directory, or at least a directory with a file called default.cow in it.


/usr/share/cowsay holds a sample set of cowfiles. If your COWPATH is not explicitly set, it automatically contains this directory.


If there are any, please notify the author at the address below.


Tony Monroe (tony@nog.net), with suggestions from Shannon Appel (appel@CSUA.Berkeley.EDU) and contributions from Anthony Polito (aspolito@CSUA.Berkeley.EDU).

See Also

perl(1), wall(1), nwrite(1), figlet(6)


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