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Why is pig meat called "pork"? Why is cattle meat called "beef"?


origamicrane
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I was at a chinese steamboat dinner party the other day

and a friend helpfully labelled the food pig, cow and sheep :huh:

that got me thinking

fish is fish,

chicken is chicken

but why is

sheep called lamb/mutton

and

pig called pork

and

cow called beef?

its one of those days...

stuck at work bored with too much time on my hands.

anyway if you have an answer let me know

so at least i would have learnt something new for today :laugh:

cheers

"so tell me how do you bone a chicken?"

"tastes so good makes you want to slap your mamma!!"

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Probably because of the way the English language mutated over a long period of time. Some of it comes from Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and some of it comes from Latin and other sources, including Gaulish and other Celtic languages and the Vikings. Then of course it turned into Anglo-Norman, then Middle English and then Modern English around the time of Shakespeare. England was invaded by lots of cultures in the last 3000 years. Its actually very difficult to peice a lot of this stuff together and why words mutated in English the way they did. If you watch some of the histories of England on The History Channel that they show from time to time, you'll get a better sense of where all this stuff is coming from.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_english

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_English

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Modern_English

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Norman_language

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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High school English teacher kept insisting that it had to do with the Normans coming across the Channel and stomping the Saxons in 1066.

Pig went to pork from porc, sheep went to mutton from mouton, and cow became beef by way of boeuf.

She never talked about fish and chickens though.

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High school English teacher kept insisting that it had to do with the Normans coming across the Channel and stomping the Saxons in 1066.

Pig went to pork from porc, sheep went to mutton from mouton, and cow became beef by way of boeuf.

She never talked about fish and chickens though.

hmm... but that just makes me want to ask

where did the words pig, cow and sheep come from? :huh:

"so tell me how do you bone a chicken?"

"tastes so good makes you want to slap your mamma!!"

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hmm... but that just makes me want to ask

where did the words pig, cow and sheep come from?  :huh:

Pig, cow and sheep probably all originated as onomatopedic representations of the sounds the animals make?

SB (or maybe not) :wacko:

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There's undoubtedly someone more knowledgeable about this out there on eGullet, but here's my shot at it.

I learned the same thing: after the Norman conquest of Britain, we wound up with two words for a lot of things, which is a large part of the reason English is so annoying for people to learn. One was the old, Anglo-Saxon-derived word, and the other was the new Norman French one. Usually (but not always) the food word is the Norman French one. In a non-food context, usually (but not always) the word considered more polite is the Norman French one -- this makes some sense, I guess, as the Normans were the conqueror class.

So:

Anglo-Saxon -- Norman French

pig -- pork

cow -- beef (older English works refer to cattle themselves as "beeves")

sheep -- mutton

chicken -- pullet (this is a case where the Norman French word is obsolete, no idea

why)

fish -- [none is used, and I don't know why; might have something to do with the

word "poison" which would be too close to the French word for fish for

it to get into common use?]

food -- viands, victuals (both obsolete, these didn't take); arguably cuisine is a

synonym of sorts that did

Non-food:

want -- desire

ask -- request, inquire

hide -- obscure

rude -- discourteous

Not about food, but here's a link to SF Writer Poul Anderson's take on what English might look like if it had never been influenced by Latin or French. Gives you an idea just how many words we'd lose.

Edited by jmsaul (log)
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hmm... but that just makes me want to ask

where did the words pig, cow and sheep come from?  :huh:

Pig, cow and sheep probably all originated as onomatopedic representations of the sounds the animals make?

SB (or maybe not) :wacko:

hmmm... :huh:

baa? oink? moo? quack? cluck?

what noise does a fish make? :laugh:

"so tell me how do you bone a chicken?"

"tastes so good makes you want to slap your mamma!!"

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Anglo-Saxon -- Norman French

chicken -- pullet (this is a case where the Norman French word is obsolete, no idea

                            why)

Actually, "pullet" is still used. It now refers to any young hen less than a year of age.

What I find intriguing is that the Norman-French words now refer to the flesh of the animals, while the Anglo-Saxon words are now applied to whole, live animals.

I think that "pullet" has fallen out of use because young birds are now marketed as "fryers" and "cornish game hens".

April

One cantaloupe is ripe and lush/Another's green, another's mush/I'd buy a lot more cantaloupe/ If I possessed a fluoroscope. Ogden Nash

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I recall an interesting story I was told a while back that indicates this sort of things happens in French as well. Apparently there are cultural differences that sprung into linguistic differences on the use of the word for fish. Some of older more maritime stock who emigrated away from France refer to fish on the plate and in the market as pesche, while speakers of modern French think that is wrong and refer to it is poisson, which appears to imply a processed-ness that raw pesche does not imply.

Or so I was told by somebody claiming old French "swamp yankee" heritage... I speak no french at all.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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It does bring up an interesting point about the Norman conquest, however. The Norman words all pertained to the food as it would be eaten, while the Anglo-Saxon word referred to the animal while alive. This would make sense since the the Normans were the conquerors and the Anglo-Saxons would have raised the animals for their consumption.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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my english teacher also spoke about the norman invasion and it's influence on the english language.

course i call deer/venison - bambi and rabbit/hare - thumper. influenced by felix salten who also wrote erotica

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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Anglo-Saxon -- Norman French

chicken -- pullet (this is a case where the Norman French word is obsolete, no idea

                             why)

Actually, "pullet" is still used. It now refers to any young hen less than a year of age.

What I find intriguing is that the Norman-French words now refer to the flesh of the animals, while the Anglo-Saxon words are now applied to whole, live animals.

I think that "pullet" has fallen out of use because young birds are now marketed as "fryers" and "cornish game hens".

April

The word "pullet" is still used by people that actually raise chickens and I think that is a clue to the divergence in word usage in Modern English, were the animal name is derived from Anglo-Saxon (germanic) origins and the product (meat) is derived from Norman French. This process is still going on now, I imagine that there is a growing percentage of the population that associates the word "Chicken" with the meat, in various forms, rather then the bird.

Some animal word origins are likely to be onomatopedic representations as suggested above. An example of this might me the word 'cow' which with some imagination sounds a little like the sound the beast makes. Better examples would be the Sumerian gu and Chinese ngu, ngo which means Ox etc, but is basicaly the English sound equivalent of 'Moo'!

Other words are not so clear and while modern urban types have a limited vocabulary attached to animals (like the Norman consumers), people directly involved with animals have a much wider range.

For example "Pig". A pig originally refered to a young animal, the adult was refered to as 'swine'. An animal that was ready for slaugter or sale was a 'hog'.

This is around the age of one year and so is related to the 'hogget', which is a sheep aged between one and two years of age. Under a year it is 'lamb' older then two years it is 'mutton'.

These multiple names for the same animal in different stages of development, sex, sexual maturity or the age based on the product that can be derived from them is very common. As these names get jumbled around and there meanings get changed (USA 'Hog' v UK 'Pig'), the original meanings get confused and lost, so many name origins are not obvious and it is rare to get a directly onomatopedic representation, but it is nice when the connections occur.

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Which begs (at least to this shamefully monolingual member) the question: how do other languages handle the meat/animal distinction?

In Chinese a second character defining meat is added to the animal name. Ergo, beef is referred to as cow meat, chicken as chicken meat, pork as pig meat etc. This doesn't apply to fish though.

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Which begs (at least to this shamefully monolingual member) the question: how do other languages handle the meat/animal distinction?

In Chinese a second character defining meat is added to the animal name. Ergo, beef is referred to as cow meat, chicken as chicken meat, pork as pig meat etc. This doesn't apply to fish though.

Malay is exactly like Chinese in all these respects, except that it's another word instead of another character. The word for meat in Malay is daging, so beef is daging lembu (cow meat). Fish and seafood don't get called daging.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Greek does a little of this. The word for a live chicken is "kotta," but the thing on the plate is "kotopoulo.

Beef is beef, just the adjectival form (vodhi > vodhino).

A pig in modern Greek is a "gourouni," but the meat is "choirino," which is from the ancient Greek word "choiros" for pig.

A lamb is "arni," and so is the meat.

Turkish is very straightforward. Meat is "et." Koyun is a sheep, mutton is "koyun eti" (sheep its-meat). Domuz is pig, pork is "domuz eti." Etc. etc. The only exception is fish: Balik (minus the dot on the "i") is fish, but "balik eti" means "flab." :)

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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It's interesting that I ran across this. Recently I subbed at a preschool; it was Farm Week and the 3-5 year old class were talking about the animals they might find on the Amish farm they were going to visit later in the week. The teacher asked why farmers raise animals. We got lots of answers like "pigs are cute," and "cows make milk," but none of the kids answered about food. When this poor teacher tried to explain that cows make beef like in sandwiches and hamburgers, and pigs make pork for hotdogs and bacon, all the little eyes got big as dinner plates! I felt so bad. :sad: We explained that it was ok to eat animals and that that was their job - to grow up to be food - but some people (Vegetarians and Vegans) decided not to eat food from animals. They were very confused. It was a stressful day overall.

Luckily, cheese pizza on the lunch menu that day!

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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It does bring up an interesting point about the Norman conquest, however.  The Norman words all pertained to the food as it would be eaten, while the Anglo-Saxon word referred to the animal while alive.  This would make sense since the the Normans were the conquerors and the Anglo-Saxons would have raised the animals for their consumption.

You are exactly right. I remember studying this specifically in my "History of the English Language" course at school. You can tell a lot about our cultural history from the etymology of various words. :smile:

The sea was angry that day my friends... like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

George Costanza

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It's interesting that I ran across this. Recently I subbed at a preschool; it was Farm Week and the 3-5 year old class were talking about the animals they might find on the Amish farm they were going to visit later in the week. The teacher asked why farmers raise animals. We got lots of answers like "pigs are cute," and "cows make milk," but none of the kids answered about food. When this poor teacher tried to explain that cows make beef like in sandwiches and hamburgers, and pigs make pork for hotdogs and bacon, all the little eyes got big as dinner plates! I felt so bad.  :sad:  We explained that it was ok to eat animals and that that was their job - to grow up to be food - but some people (Vegetarians and Vegans) decided not to eat food from animals. They were very confused. It was a stressful day overall.

Luckily, cheese pizza on the lunch menu that day!

part of me (the conspiracist side) is wondering if the different names

was a deliberate attempt at disassociating the animal from the meat?

maybe one day farmer John accidentally ran over and cooked up little Timmy's pet sheep Daisy.

When little Timmy asked "Where's Daisy gone?"

farmer John replied "errr... she must have flown up to heaven to be with the other clouds... hmm... yeah... thats right ...anyway Timmy would you like another lamb chop?" :raz:

"so tell me how do you bone a chicken?"

"tastes so good makes you want to slap your mamma!!"

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It does bring up an interesting point about the Norman conquest, however.  The Norman words all pertained to the food as it would be eaten, while the Anglo-Saxon word referred to the animal while alive.  This would make sense since the the Normans were the conquerors and the Anglo-Saxons would have raised the animals for their consumption.

You are exactly right. I remember studying this specifically in my "History of the English Language" course at school. You can tell a lot about our cultural history from the etymology of various words. :smile:

I did the same sort of course too. :cool: Good topic.

As far as I remember, before the Norman Conquest latin didn't have much effect on Old English. (Just a bit through terms related to the church.) The Normans didn't speak Old French per se, as they were 'Norse' and so had incorporated many Germanic elements into their brand of French. Nonetheless, from then on there was far more of a latinate/romantic influence on the development of English, often at the expense of English's 'humble' Germanic roots.

The Normans came and the conquered Anglo-Saxons retained their language and tended to the 'cows' and 'sheep.' The new aristocrats ate their 'beef' and 'mutton' and continued speaking Norman French. The Normans became cut off from France, eventually, and the languages fused. However, the feeling was retained - and I think persists today - that latinate/romantic terms are more sophisticated (or aristocratic?) while Germanic terms are common and base, even crass. In a way, I suppose that is why your restaurant would lose customers listing 'cow flesh' over beef or 'fish eggs' over caviar on menus.

A bit off topic here, but... I remember that Orwell, for example, disliked this habit in English. Generally, the Germanic words in English are shorter, clearer, more direct and economical, while latinate/romantic terms are longer and more vague. Orwell argued that Germanic terms were, in fact, more elegant. (Politics and the English Language.)

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  • 12 years later...

While this topic seems to have gone stale, I found my way here in response to a recent article referring to this topic. I noted that no one mentioned that there is one derived word for chicken from the pullet origin - poultry. So in some case there is still a wide reference to the word.

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