mooncalf /MOON-kaf/. noun. An unholy fool, a dolt, a simpleton. An ill-conceived enterprise. In older usage a mooncalf might refer to a deformed animal or some misbegotten monster, based on the folk superstition that abortive fetuses (of cows and people) were the product of the moon’s influences. Also, now thankfully obsolete, a uterine mole or tumor.
“The potion works not on the part design’d,
But turns his brain, and stupifies his mind;
The sotted moon-calf gapes”
(Martial, translated by Dryden, from Juvenal’s Satires)
“…a very big man came into the room carrying a can of beer. He had a doughy mooncalf face, a tuft of fuzz on top of an otherwise bald head, a thick brutal neck and chin, and brown pig eyes…” (Raymond Chandler, from “The King in Yellow”)
“In his pockets, it turned out, puppets were tucked, with strings and bars. A wistful female child, a wolfman with a snarling smile and a fur coat, a strange mooncalf, luminous green with huge eyes.” (A.S. Byatt, from The Children’s Book)
“We recruited fools for the show. We had spots for a number of fools (and in the big all-fool number that occurs immediately after the second act, some specialties). But fools are hard to find. Usually they don’t like to admit it. We settled for gowks, gulls, mooncalfs. A few babies, boobies, sillies, simps. A barmie was engaged, along with certain dum-dums and beefheads. A noodle. When you see them all wandering around, under the colored lights, gibbering and performing miracles, you are surprised.” (Donald Barthelme, from “The Flights of Pigeons from the Palace”)