Why do we eat "beef" and "pork" rather than "cow" and "pig"?

“Pork” and “chops” have specific culinary meanings. For agricultural, import, export, whatever purposes, these are referred to by their ‘live’ names - ‘pigmeat’ and ‘sheapmeat’.

Cow comes from Old Norse, Pig comes from Old English. Both are from Germanic languages.

Pork comes from Old French (meaning Pig). Beef comes from Old French (meaning Ox).

After the Normans invaded England, French became an up-market language in England, while English was more proletarian. For some reason, the English words came to be used to mean the animal, while the French words came to mean the food. But it never happened with duck, chicken, fish or lamb (but it did with Sheep/Mutton).

Compare “Hearty Welcome” (English) with “Cordial Reception” (French). One is earthy, and one is fancy. But they fundamentally mean the same thing.

Link: Why do we eat “beef” and “pork” rather than “cow” and “pig”?


Care to prove that?

In any event, whether this is done NOW is irrelevant to the question of how it got that way.

I do have a quibble with the theory as stated by Bibliophage; while essentially plausible, I think it’s unlikely to be a split between master and servant. More likely (to me) is that French, being the court language of the Norman nobility, was more likely to be aped by those aspiring to power and influence. Those outside the cities (shepherds & such) stuck with an all-English vocabulary.

I saw it on History Bites, therefore it’s true.

Well, History Bites is wrong. OK, not entirely wrong – in the former British Empire, sheepmeat and pigmeat are terms used in the commodities market. But in the U.S., they’re called pork and mutton. As a matter of fact, the various cuts from a pig are called pork cuts – right, bacon is a pork cut, ham is a pork cut, etc. I’m pretty sure that if you ask an English butcher for “pork,” he’ll ask you “what cut?”

That’s really funny. I actually thought of the whole French vs. Anglo-Saxon thing too. Beouf et Porc. Although I’m not sure I agree with the absolute cultural class distinction. It’s more likely that, since the French WERE the nobles after the norman invasion, there were those who adhered to the Anglo-Saxon, and those who aspired to loftier digs. Maybe the seperation we experience now is not such a clear cut example of the class struggle, but more of a left over from one, the names of the meat vs. the source normalized (standardized) through centuries of use, rather than a single century of class difference. Kate

According to Don Ringe, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the leading professors of historical linguistics, the argument that the words originated from a class distinction is bunk. A simple check into the Oxford English Dictionary will reveal that these delicious meats entered the English language at various different times, some centuries after the Norman Invasion. While there is no doubt about their language of origin, saying that these words entered the English language because of the class structure of England during the Norman Invasion is comparable to attributing the origin of a word that entered the Enlgish language yesterday to the class structures during the American Revolution.

[minor rant]
Is no one going to criticise the use of “cow” rather than bovine? Not only is cow gender-specific, but a cow only becomes a cow when she gives birth to a live calf, until then she is a heifer.

Furthermore, unless you are buying meat from a bargain bin, you are eating steers or heifers, not bulls or cows. Or at least you should be, and if you are not, it is time to consider changing where you shop.

Actually the same goes for pigs too, feeders and gilts correspond to steers/heifers (except that feeders can be of both sexes) and sows and boars correspond to cows and bulls.

But both steers and male feeders are castrated when very young so their fate is decided very early, yum yum :slight_smile:
[/minor rant]

I’m totally aware of the diferent ways they speak Spanish in Spain and in Los Americas. My former significant Señorita, from Spain, found it amusing that the stores in Hispanic neighbourhoods in the U.S. had signs up saying “Puerco”, meaning pork. In Spain it’s only used deragatory about men.

The column might be true in The Americas, but certainly not in Spain.

Let’s break this down.
Carne is meat. Period. Although carne picada - minced meat - is always hamburger and never ‘minced pork’.
Beef is ternera, or sometimes buey.
Pork is always cerdo, sometimes cochinillo (diminutive cochino - pig) is used, and that means whole roast piglet.
Lamb and mutton is cordero.
Veal is mostly ternera de leche.

No doubt, when learning a forreign language these are some of the things that trip us up.

Just wanted to mention that “pork” in Thai is “moo.”

Nope. Or at least, not me. Even The Master doesn’t put his foot down on this debate. There’s been some other discussion of the “cow” debate on the board, but I don’t recall when or in which forum.

I doubt the explanation given is correct. The words “beef”, “veal” or “pork” are definitely of French origin, but such doublets between a Saxon and a French term exist in many other lexical fields: worth/value, freedom/liberty, spot/place, etc. without any “upper class” bias. The new term generally incorporates a different nuance, often a more theoretic meaning as opposed to the practical meaning of the original.

On the other hand, it appears current in latin languages to have (for some meats, not all) the same kind of doublet. In French we raise cochon but we eat porc . In Spanish there is pez in the sea but once in the pan it’s called pescado (fished). As for “beef”, the French boeuf is specifically the ox, while the general word is vache (cow).

Maybe of interest, here, is that “boeuf” and “porc” are truly Latin in origin, while “vache” and “cochon” are from the Gallic or Frankish strata. In the same vein, we raise but rarely say we eat “mouton”, we eat “agneau” (lamb), which again is the Latin “agnus”.

So, my impression is, the Anglo-Saxon language having no such differentiation, the original French word was used, first by those accustomed to differentiate, then by everyone. This is the normal and still frequent way a language annexes new terms.
(As a sidenote, we eat “agneau” but we usually say the Muslims eat “mouton”. So maybe there IS a social aspect after all).

<< I doubt the explanation given is correct. The words “beef”, “veal” or “pork” are definitely of French origin, but such doublets between a Saxon and a French term exist in many other lexical fields: worth/value, freedom/liberty, spot/place, etc. without any “upper class” bias. >>

Perhaps, but other doublets clearly have an “upper class” or “educated” usage compared to a “lower class” or “common” usage: door/portal, for instance.

I’ve alwasy told my son what the food was.
Its a pig, Its a cow.

… it’s an unfertilized chicken embryo.

that reminds me of the old SNL skit with the coneheads!consume mass quantities)

BTW, we don’t eat eggs…


Isn’t an embryo by definition fertilized? I’d rather say “unfertilized chicken gamete” instead.

“pork is Schwein and pork is Schweinefleisch.”
Was that supposed to be “pig is Schwein and pork is Schweinefleisch”?

I for one find the idea of requesting " Bovine Wellington " to be darned near horrifying.

So there. Additionally, in our language, " pig " has taken on more than one meaning, whereas “pork” ( aside from the most foulminded of souls… ) means pork.