I stumbled upon the answer to something that I’ve wondered about for a long time recently, and it’s also rather timely, given the great meat vote that’s been gripping the plannersphere over the last week or two.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve often pondered why we have two words for certain animals, one to describe the live beast, and another for the meat product that we eat, for example: cow/beef, sheep/mutton, and pig/pork etc. Anyone else?

(At this point I’d like to point out I’m aware that I’m slightly odd).

There I was, on the train home from work one cold night this week, when the answer came to me whilst I was trying to teach myself a bit of English history. And it was as fascinating an answer as I could have hoped for.

Apparently, it all dates back to the Norman invasion, when the Normans came over to England and usurped land rights from the local Anglo Saxons and generally dominated quite a bit.

The Anglo Saxon (englisc) words that were used to describe certain animals – cow (cu), sheep (sceap), pig (pigge) – survived as the terms associated with the ‘live’ farm animals, as these were the chaps who were grafting on the farms, breeding and tending to the livestock (doing all the hard work). The Norman French, however, were the folk enjoying the fruits of this labour, so their imported words for farm animals came to be associated with the act of eating – beef (boeuf), pork (porc) and mutton (mouton). Eventually, both became widely used, and thus, the difference remained long after the old social divides dissolved.

Well there you go. A bit off topic, but I thought it so interesting I just had to share it.


4 Responses to “Etymology”

  1. Kirsty Says:

    You know, I was wondering that myself the other day, but was too lazy to look it up – I’m glad you shared the answer, thanks!

  2. FishNChimps Says:

    surprise enlightenment is always welcome

  3. phill Says:

    interesting, very interesting. but how much time did you use to find this out? eh? lol

  4. Marcus Brown Says:

    the study of meat is worthwhile and requires many hours of consideration. Sausages.

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