- a cereal grass, Avena sativa, cultivated for its edible seed.
- Usually oats. (used with a singular or plural verb) the seed of this plant, used as a food for humans and animals.
- any of several plants of the same genus, as the wild oat.
- Archaic. a musical pipe made of an oat straw.
- feel one’s oats, Informal.
- to feel frisky or lively.
- to be aware of and use one’s importance or power.
- sow one’s wild oats. wild oat(def 3).
- an erect annual grass, Avena sativa, grown in temperate regions for its edible seed
- (usually plural) the seeds or fruits of this grass
- any of various other grasses of the genus Avena, such as the wild oat
- poetic a flute made from an oat straw
- feel one’s oats US and Canadian informal
- to feel exuberant
- to feel self-important
- get one’s oats slang to have sexual intercourse
- sow one’s oats or sow one’s wild oats to indulge in adventure or promiscuity during youth
Old English ate (plural atan) “grain of the oat plant, wild oats,” of uncertain origin, possibly from Old Norse eitill “nodule,” denoting a single grain, of unknown origin. The English word has cognates in Frisian and some Dutch dialects. Famously defined by Johnson as, “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”
The usual Germanic name is derived from Proto-Germanic *khabran (cf. Old Norse hafri, Dutch haver, source of haversack). Wild oats, “crop that one will regret sowing,” is first attested 1560s, in reference to the folly of sowing these instead of good grain.
That wilfull and vnruly age, which lacketh rypenes and discretion, and (as wee saye) hath not sowed all theyr wyeld Oates. [Thomas Newton, “Lemnie’s Touchstone of complexions,” 1576]
Fred Sanford: I still want to sow some wild oats!
Lamont Sanford: At your age, you don’t have no wild oats, you got shredded wheat.
[“Sanford and Son”]
Hence, to feel (one’s) oats “be lively,” 1831, originally American English.
Feel frisky or animated, as in School was out, and they were feeling their oats. This usage alludes to the behavior of a horse after having been fed. [Early 1800s]
Display self-importance, as in He was feeling his oats, bossing everyone around. [Mid-1800s]