Beef - Etymology

Etymology

The word beef is from the Latin bōs, in contrast to cow, which is from Middle English "cou" (both words have the same Indo-European root *gʷou-). After the Norman Conquest, the French-speaking nobles who ruled England naturally used French words to refer to the meats they were served. Thus various Anglo-Saxon words were used for the animal (such as nēat, or cu for adult females) by the peasants, but the meat was called boef (ox) (Modern French boeuf) by the French nobles —who did not often deal with the live animal— when it was served to them.

This is one example of the common English dichotomy between the words for animals (with largely Germanic origins) and their meat (with Romanic origins) that is also found in such English word-pairs as pig/pork, sheep/mutton and chicken/poultry.

Beef is cognate with bovine through the Late Latin bovīnus.

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