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


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Ha!  why are all the killed ones female - not inciting drama but tis interesting. Chickens v. roosters, cows v. bulls, Oftentimes probably just nomenclatyre as both sexes are on the table

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FWIW, more of the cattle killed for beef are male, albeit steers. Heifers are kept for breeding. At least in my part of the world.

 

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"Cow" (Plural: kine) is an ancient word with various spellings derived from Indo-European and has long been used to refer to cattle of either gender. The exclusively female use is relatively recent. "Bull" is more recent, first appearing in English around 1200 AD.

 

"Beef", as has been said, is from middle French and first appears in written English in c1300 AD.

 

Similarly, "sheep" is Old English while "mutton" entered middle English from Old French  around 1300.

 

The same story applies to pig and pork; deer and venison. Although 'pig' originally only referred to the young animal under one year old; regular pigs were swine. "hogs" were also under one year old.

 

The probable reason for the two existing side by side is that after the Norman Conquest, the land owning, ruling, educated classes spoke French while the uneducated peasants spoke English. Under the feudal system, the peasants would raise the animals and so use their language to describe them. The upper classes ate the beef, mutton and venison, so used their language, French. By around 1300 AD the two languages had merged (as can be seen in Chaucer) into Middle English. Some English and French words were lost or relegated to dialect use, but in the case of this animal/meat referencing, both were retained.

 

Also, "meat" (also from Old English) originally just meant "food". The modern use to mean the flesh of animals is relatively recent (and 'meat' is still used in the old sense).

 

 

8 hours ago, heidih said:

Ha!  why are all the killed ones female - not inciting drama but tis interesting.

 

They aren't.

 

Never heard of "coq au vin"?

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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On 2/8/2006 at 6:22 AM, wattacetti said:

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.

 

Not quite. Pork is usually referred to simply as 肉 (ròu). It  can be specified as 猪肉 (zhū ròu) if absolutely necessary, but that it is relatively rare. Most other meats contain the animal and meat characters.

 

Beef - 牛肉 (niú ròu; cattle meat)

Mutton - 羊 肉 (yáng ròu; sheep meat)

Chicken - 鸡肉 (jī ròu; chicken meat)


Fish meat 鱼肉  (yú ròu) is used, but is less common. I have several Chinese cookbooks that call for 鱼肉 in recipes.

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10 hours ago, Jon K said:

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.

 

Australians call live chickens Chooks. Seldom used for the meat.

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24 minutes ago, haresfur said:

 

Australians call live chickens Chooks. Seldom used for the meat.

 

Probably an alternative pronunciation of "chuck", meaning chicken, in use long before Australia was colonised in the late 18th century.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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  • 3 months later...
1 hour ago, JoNorvelleWalker said:

For the first time I noticed a package in the meat section of the local Shoprite labeled "Chicken Paws".

 

What did it contain? 

I associate paws with carnivores and things cuddly. A chicken is neither unless you count bugs as meat 

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12 minutes ago, gfweb said:

What did it contain? 

I associate paws with carnivores and things cuddly. A chicken is neither unless you count bugs as meat 

 

 

I might have thought of them as chicken feet.

 

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  • 2 years later...

Why is it that we call cow meat "beef"?  Pork meat is "pork".  Chicken meat is "chicken".  Beef is the only example I can think of where the name of the meat is different than the name of the animal.  What is the origin of this?  @liuzhou - any thoughts?  I would assume that "beef" comes from the Latin/Romance root - but, say, in French beouf is not vache, so it's the same issue.

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7 minutes ago, KennethT said:

Pork meat is "pork".

True, I suppose, but I'm much more inclined use pig or swine when I refer to the animal we get bacon from. 

But plenty more examples align with your query like goat and lamb, though sheep and mutton, deer and venison don't.

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10 minutes ago, KennethT said:

Why is it that we call cow meat "beef"?  Pork meat is "pork".  Chicken meat is "chicken".  Beef is the only example I can think of where the name of the meat is different than the name of the animal.  What is the origin of this?  @liuzhou - any thoughts?  I would assume that "beef" comes from the Latin/Romance root - but, say, in French beouf is not vache, so it's the same issue.


I'd quibble with "pork meat is pork." For me, pig meat is pork (or hog meat, as the case may be). I've never yet heard a kid squeal and point out a family of "porks."

 

That being said, obviously we do refer to them as "porkers" as well, in the same sense that ranchers might speak of their herd as "beeves." But it's not the primary usage.

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That is easy!

 

It dates back to the 1066 Norman conquest of England.

 

Norman French became the language of the educated, wealthy ruling classes, the politicians, lawmaker, judges etc. Basically the rich.

 

They naturally used their French words for the meats they ate. The French names for the animals "bœuf" for cattle; "mouton" for sheep "porc" for pigs  etc. Several more.

The peasantry however, who actually used their own language, Old Engish, for the animals. "Beef" was still "cow meat" etc.

 

Both passed down into modern English. The Old English came to represent the animals and the French the meat.

 

This  theory has been disputed, but I've never seen any credible evidence to debunk it.

 

I have never found another language which displays this disparity between animal and meat.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

That is easy!

 

It dates back to the 1066 Norman conquest of England.

 

Norman French became the language of the educated, wealthy ruling classes, the politicians, lawmaker, judges etc. Badically the rich.

 

They naturally used their French words for the meats they ate. The French names for the animals "bœuf" for cattle; "mouton" for sheep "porc" for pigs  etc. Several more.

The peasantry however, who actually used their own language, Old Engish,  for the aninals. "Beef" was still "cow meat" etc.

 

Both passed down into modern English. The Old English came to represent the animals and the French the meat.

 

This  theory has been disputed, but I've never seen any credible evidence to debunk it.

 

I have never found another language which displays this disparity between animal and meat.

Thanks. Do you know the root of boeuf (or porc for that matter) in the French? Is there a reason why the French created words to differentiate between animal and meat?

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9 hours ago, KennethT said:

Thanks. Do you know the root of boeuf (or porc for that matter) in the French? Is there a reason why the French created words to differentiate between animal and meat?

 

The French didn’t create words to differentiate between animals and meat. Middle English did that, by taking the animal word from Old English and the meat word from French.

 

Boef’ in Old French, ‘bœuf’ in Modern French meant and still means both animal and the meat, as is normal in nearly all languages.

 

Bœuf’ is derived from the Latin ‘bos’ which in turn is derived from the Ancient Greek ‘βοῦς’, the same root which gives us ‘bovine’ etc.

 

Porc’ too comes from the Latin ‘porcus’ meaning both animal and meat.

 

Mouton’ means both ‘sheep’ and their meat in Modern French, too. From Gaulish, the Celtic language used in that part of the world before the Romans turned up. You can still hear traces of it in the Welsh ‘molit’’, Cornish 'mols', Breton ‘maoet’ and Irish ‘molt ram’.

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Where I live, chicken meat comes from a chook. On a small scale anyway. Supermarkets sell free range chicken and eggs from free range chickens.

 

Although there is a chain of dodgy takeaway chicken called Charcoal Chook.

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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26 minutes ago, haresfur said:

Where I live, chicken meat comes from a chook. On a small scale anyway. Supermarkets sell free range chicken and eggs from free range chickens.

 

Although there is a chain of dodgy takeaway chicken called Charcoal Chook.

 

Yes. 'Chook', originally 'chuckie', is an antipodean corruption of 'chick(en)' and dates back to the 19th century. It changed from 'chucky' to 'chook' in the 1930s.

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

 

The French didn’t create words to differentiate between animals and meat. Middle English did that, by taking the animal word from Old English and the meat word from French.

 

Boef’ in Od French, ‘bœuf’ in Modern French meant and still means both animal and the meat, as is normal in nearly all languages.

 

Bœuf’ is derived from the Latin ‘bos’ which in turn is derived from the Ancient Greek ‘βοῦς’, the same root which gives us ‘bovine’ etc.

 

Porc’ too comes from the Latin ‘porcus’ meaning both animal and meat.

 

Mouton’ means both ‘sheep’ and their meat in Modern French, too. From Gaulish, the Celtic language used in that part of the world before the Romans turned up. You can still hear traces of it in the Welsh ‘molit’’, Cornish 'mols', Breton ‘maoet’ and Irish ‘molt ram’.

 

So where does "vache" come into the picture? Lacking a French parent I only have my middle-school memories to work from, but that's the word I was taught for "cow."

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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3 minutes ago, chromedome said:

 

So where does "vache" come into the picture? Lacking a French parent I only have my middle-school memories to work from, but that's the word I was taught for "cow."

La Vache Qui Rit ;) A part of our culture now

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11 hours ago, chromedome said:

 

So where does "vache" come into the picture? Lacking a French parent I only have my middle-school memories to work from, but that's the word I was taught for "cow."

 

Vache is female* as is English 'cow'. Boeuf is gender neutral.

 

*I don't mean grammatically feminine, although it's that too.

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1 hour ago, liuzhou said:

 

The French didn’t create words to differentiate between animals and meat. Middle English did that, by taking the animal word from Old English and the meat word from French.

 

Boef’ in Od French, ‘bœuf’ in Modern French meant and still means both animal and the meat, as is normal in nearly all languages.

 

Bœuf’ is derived from the Latin ‘bos’ which in turn is derived from the Ancient Greek ‘βοῦς’, the same root which gives us ‘bovine’ etc.

 

Porc’ too comes from the Latin ‘porcus’ meaning both animal and meat.

 

Mouton’ means both ‘sheep’ and their meat in Modern French, too. From Gaulish, the Celtic language used in that part of the world before the Romans turned up. You can still hear traces of it in the Welsh ‘molit’’, Cornish 'mols', Breton ‘maoet’ and Irish ‘molt ram’.

Excellent.  Thank you!

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