Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Meaty Truth

A random conversation with my wife when we were having Bak Kut Teh for dinner sparked a puzzling question... Why is the meat of cows called beef, the meat of pigs called pork, the meat of sheep called mutton, the meat of deer called venison, but the meat of chickens called... chicken? I mean, shouldn't there be another term to describe the meat of chicken? So I posed this question to my wife, thinking aloud, and we realised that for edible birds, the names of their meat are all the same as what they're called... duck meat, patridge, pigeon, ostrich etc. 

One spectulation my wife had was that because we could serve chicken as a whole, and probably most other birds too, and that was why the whole term is used to also describe their meat. Then we realised there isn't another term for fish meat as well, since the entire fish could be served on a single platter. This reasoning made perfect sense, but still, I had to find the "cause" of it. 

Strangly enough, this question has been asked before. A google search will quickly disclose the "truth" behind this seemingly trivial wonder. 

From, as quoted: 

"Beef is from the French "boeuf" which means cow, and por from the French "porc", pig. Likewise mutton is from the French "mouton" sheep. Back in Norman times, these were the main farm animals - turkey, chicken, etc. cam later. The poor farmhands who tended the live animals called them by their Anglos-Saxon names of cow, pig, sheep. The rich Norman lords called the meat they ate by their French names boeuf, porc and mouton. As the two languages merged to form the English we now speak, the meats kept different names from the animals. Later arrivals did not have this split."

Well, case closed. Already?! If anything my 29 years of living has thought me, majoring in science and intrigued by magic, is that we should be skeptical of things (though being too skeptical isn't good). I wanted to confirm this, so I proceeded to find other sources to make sure that my "results were replicable". True enough, it wasn't. It's gonna be a long long post, so if you're not one who's patient enough to read through the post, just scroll to the end for the "answer". 

From, the explanation above is not proven. The one who posed the question initially also had a pretty strong argument, that it acts as a means to distance people away from the source of the food, mentally, so that they don't feel bad about the meat they're eating. Interesting point, but based on the discussion thread, no hardcore "truth" behind the question. 

From, as quoted: 

"Cow is the name for a FEMALE member of the Bovine species, BUT it is also the name of the female of many other speices such as a whale.   Therefore, we do not refer to meat from cattle by the name of the female member of the species.  We could call it cattle meat, but it is referred to by the word beef, which means the flesh of cattle prepared for eating.   From old French boef."

"Actually, chicken does have another name - poultry. Poultry can also mean other birds, but unless another is specified it almost always means chicken. So chicken is to poultry as cow is to beef."

The answers from the 3rd source, askville gives a good lead. There's a high possiblitity that the "problem" boils down to the english language. Oh, how did I forget about the term "poultry"? If poultry does mean chicken meat, or if beef could also mean the physical cow, then my question would be much ado about nothing wouldn't it? And also, if cow doesn't just refer to the bovine species, then in a way it would make sense to give the meat of the bovine cows another name. 

With that knowledge, I guess the best way to find out the answer, isn't about finding out the origins of the terms, but on what their definitions mean. The definitions from 



  • 1a fully grown female animal of a domesticated breed of ox, kept to produce milk or beef:
    a dairy cow
  •  (loosely) a domestic bovine animal, regardless of sex or age.
  •  (in farming) a female domestic bovine animal which has borne more than one calf. Compare with heifer.
  •  the female of certain other large animals, for example elephant, rhinoceros, whale, or seal.
  • 2 informal an unpleasant or disliked woman.
  •  Australian/NZ an unpleasant person or thing.



  • 1 [mass noun] the flesh of a cow, bull, or ox, used as food:
    there was the smell of roast beef
    [as modifier]:
    beef cattle
  •  [count noun] (plural beeves /biːvz/ or US also beefs) Farming a cow, bull, or ox fattened for its meat:
    a beef sent to the abattoir
  • 2 [mass noun] informal flesh with well-developed muscle:
    he needs a little more beef on his bones
  •  strength or power:
    he was brought in to give the team more beef
  •  the substance of a matter:
    it’s more a sketch than a policy—where’s the beef?
  • 3 (plural beefs) informal a complaint or grievance:
    he has a beef with education: it doesn’t teach the basics of investing
  • 4US informal a criminal charge:
    getting caught with pot in the sixties was a narco beef



  • 1a domestic fowl kept for its eggs or meat, especially a young one:
    rationing was still in force and most people kept chickens
  •  [mass noun] meat from a chicken:
    roast chicken
  • 2 [mass noun] informal a game in which the first person to lose their nerve and withdraw from a dangerous situation is the loser:
    he was killed by a car after he lay in the road playing chicken
  •  [count noun] a coward.



[mass noun]
  • domestic fowl, such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese.
  •  the flesh of chickens and other domestic fowl as food:
    I haven’t eaten red meat for 19 years and poultry for 12 yearsraw or cooked meat and poultryanyone handling raw poultry should wash their hands thoroughly

Well, it would seem that poultry does refer to the meat of chicken and could also refer to the collective term of fowls, chickens included. This means Poultry is like Cattle (hoofed animals), as well as Poultry is like Beef. "Cow" does not only mean the female of cattle or the bovine species, it also refers to the female of the alligator, dolphin, dugong, elephant, giraffe hippopotamus, rat, reindeer, sea lion, termites and even whales (not exhaustive).

And the female of the chicken is called "hen", which is also the same term for the female of the crab, lobster, squid and other birds such as ostrich, lark, parrot etc. 

The answer seems clearer now. "Cow" refers to the term for the female of the bovine species, not the animal as a whole. Whereas "Chicken" refers to the animal. It's as if light has finally shone on the darkest.... wait a minute, before I get complacent, lemme extend my search to pigs... Alas, my explanation failed. 

"Pigs" also refer to the animal. And while finding this out, I also came across another puzzling question... why isn't it called "pig chops" rather than "pork chops", whilst we call "lamb chops" and "chickn chops" as such? Lamb is the young for sheep. Which means it should be called "piglet chops" or "chick chops" rather. 
Or "sheep chops", "pig chops" and "chicken chops". 

Adding a chop at the back really screws things up. Anticipating a life-long quest to uncover this linguistic mystery, I've decided to come up with my own explanations. 

Before I digress, my initially question has been answered. The meat for chicken is called poultry, so there is indeed a term to describe the meat of chicken. However, the fish part still remains a mystery, as the meat of fish, is still called fish meat. 

To align the terms for a better comparison and understanding: 
[animals, young, female, male, group, meat]
1. Cattle: Calf, Cow, Bull, Herd, Beef/Veal
2. Chicken: Chick, Hen, Rooster/Cock, Flock, Poultry
3. Pig: Piglet, Sow, Boar, Drift, Pork/Ham/Bacon
4. Sheep: Lamb, Ewe/Dam, Ram, Drift, Lamb/Mutton/Hoggett
5. Deer: Calf, Doe/Cow, Stag/Buck, Herd, Venison
6. Fish: Fry/Fingerling, Nil, Nil, School, Nil

I strongly believe this is a linguistic issue. And the combined factors of other languages, ease of speaking (syllabus) and abiding by the "norm". 

So does the term for the meats only refer to a specific sex of the animals? No. Googling "Bull Meat", I get "Beef", same goes for "Cow Meat". However, Googling "Calf Meat" I get "Veal". 

As for chicken, "Chick, Hen, or Rooster Meat" were all returned with "Chicken". Both "Chicken" and "Poultry" can be used to describe chicken meat, but "Chicken" is more common. Also, an interesting find, the difference between rooster and hen meat: 

To summarise the article, they're killed usually during a young age so the difference is subtle, but females generally taste a bit fattier. 

The article also mentions the difference, more distinct than chickens, between male and female pigs. Which explains my next Google results. "Piglet Meat" and "Sow Meat" are "Pork", whilst "Boar Meat" is more common known as "Boar Meat". It seems to have an informal class of its own, which is probably due to its more distinct taste (leaner and gamier as opposed to tender and milder for the females). 

As for Sheep and Deer, despite the genders/ages, they are all called Mutton and Venison respectively, with the exception of Stag Meat, which is called "Stag Meat". The results on the first page all shows World of Warcraft items, so based on inference, it would seem most of the male meats of the animals have a different class of their own literal terminologies, perhaps because of the slight differences in tastes. 

So what have I learnt from my research? Apart from don't ask so many answers, and some questions are meant to be unanswered, is that some things are the way it is, just because they are. No explanations will be able to answer those questions. 

Every explanation above is flawed in one way or another, and it would have been perfect if the first explanation about the merger of the two languages is proven. 
If I were to guess, it would be because of the ease of the pronunciation of "chicken"as opposed to "poultry". Even though there's 2 syllabus each, there's an alliteration of "c" in "chicken", which makes it easier to remember, and say. 

As for Cow meat, it's a common mistake for people to associate cows to refer to the terminology for the animal, because of our early childhood education. It's only 1 syllabus, so instead of Cattle, Cow is easier to say and remember. And why draw the line so clearly to differentiate between the different sexes? Unless we are zoologists or taxonomists? 

As for Pig meat, there's a negative connotation behind calling someone Pig. So using Pig meat doesn't sound too appetising is it? Pork sounds more neutral, well, it could be called anything else, but it just so happened to be called Pork, sounds straight forward, easy to rem, and wa la, pig's meat is called pork. 

Sheep meat is a hard one to crack. Because "Mutton" is 2 syllabus and it's harder to pronounce than Sheep. Perhaps sheeps look too innocent and there is some truth behind people wanting to not associate the meat they are eating with the animal itself. 

Deer is understandable because most of the time, we don't call "Deer's Meat" "Venison" anyways, I mean, I'm sure most people wouldn't even be familiar with the term. If we wanna eat deer meat, one would just simply order deer meat and it doesn't sound awkward at all, despite having an official term to call it. Because deer meat is less common than cow, chicken and pig and sheep meats. 

As for fish, the term probably refers to too diverse a group that people would rather call  them by their names. Eg. I want Garoupa, Snapper, Ikan Bilis, Halibut, Salmon etc. The only exception is Fish and Chips, even though most of the time we know it's Dory fish being used nowadays in Singapore. Because the fish used in making the dish Fish and Chips may vary, based on season, the general term is used instead. 

Coming back to the "Chops". There's just 2 to compare, cos we don't have "Beef Chops" do we? It all comes back to the ease of prounciation. Poultry just seems harder to articulate, so Chicken is used instead. And there you have it. Case closed. Whether it's the real reasons, the "truth", I shall close this chapter once and for all because I'm convinced there isn't a definite answer out there. There could be, but it would take a historian to find it, and I ain't one. My answer to this question, is a cumulation of answers. And with that, I rest my case.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Life's Lessons

I don't know where to start. 

Well, I haven't been living that long but have decided to "key" down a tribute to what life has taught me, my very own life's lessons. 

The first thing that comes to mind is death, a rather morbid topic to start off with. It kinda feels like dejavu, like I've posted something like this before... brb... oh it seems there was indeed. My post on November 9, 2007, The Fragility of Life. 

I guess what sparked me to write that post was that a couple of people close to me passed away. But nothing "beats" having a close friend going over to the other side (which I'm hoping there is indeed a better other side to go to) at the age of 28. He was a close friend of mine, who battled cancer for more than 2 years, whom I've went through Poly with, though not that close, but became much closer in University. We've spent good and bad times together during our days in NTU and during his day of passing, the seemingly locked up memories just seemed to all slip right back. 

Even when my maternal grandfather passed away a few years back, I didn't recall being this devastated, first because I wasn't that close to him, and probably because he had suffered from a prolonged dementia and his deteriorating health preped us for an imminent death. In a way, when one reaches that golden age, the only way up, is down. 

It affected me a lot because during my fren's years of recuperations, I've always assumed that he would recover, get all healthy and we would be able to hang out, chill out, as healthy individuals. But it struck me, that life is indeed unpredictable. If you've managed to read my post till the very end (it's gonna be a long long post), you'll probably understand the impact of strong but passive words. 

How many times have we came across awesome quotes, only to register them for a day, before we start forgetting them, only to slip right back when we come across it again? How many times have we read thought-provoking quotes which make you go "wow, it relates and applies to my life", wrote it down, tried to remember it, but have it locked away in our minds 'waiting' for it to slip right back when the time comes? So when will the right time come? It's like gambling, it's a game of luck. It might come soon, it might never come. 

And finally how many times have we registered those awesome quotes because we strongly feel towards the "true" meaning of it and make it part of our beliefs, and true inspirations? Only when it happens. What's "it"? It's abstract, "it" is like a feeling of love, you can't see it being there, you just feel it, sense it and embrace it. 

After beating around the bushes of words, I'll be forthcoming and tell you this, the true value of words come only with a price, that cannot be brought with money but with experiences. 

Knowledge is Power. Well, we've all heard of that before, but we don't really appreciate it only after being given real knowledge. The kinda knowledge that not everyone is exposed to, the kinda knowledge that not everyone can learn, the kinda knowledge that we know can either make the world, or break it. Magic has exposed me to the "hidden secrets of life", not one of deceit, but one of wonder. It has taught me to think out of the hat, and by mixing Science (my major) with magic, it made me a "hungrier" person, to push me to ask the "right" questions. How do we know what are the "right" questions to ask? Experience & Knowledge is your answer.

So if anything my close fren's death has taught me, is to cherish life. We've heard of it all too often, but do we really practise it? We all think we're infallible, and get complacent because nothing has "yet" to happen to us. We think the unfortunate will not fall on us, and that even if they do, we have the strength to overcome them. If you've been living like that all your life, it's time to face reality. True, there's a possibility that nothing bad will happen to us, that we'll be able to live a ripe age and pass away with glam. But there's also a possibility that you realise you have cancer and spend the next few years fighting it only to let it take your life away despite all the inner strength you think you might have. 

Life is all about luck. There are proven (I think, I'm lazy to verify the sources) ways to live longer, living a more carefree life, having a healthier diet, exercising etc. Well, my friend looked rather carefree, his diet wasn't bad and he's a regular exerciser, but guess what, death came early nonethless. By doing all the above mentioned, it doesn't gurantee a longer life, it just increases the odds, just like a game of luck.

After his death, he has really taught me to look at things in perspective. In Singapore it's true we don't really have much of a choice but to work our asses off, unless you're one of the "luckier" ones born with a silver spoon in your mouth or have worked your asses off during your earlier years and your efforts have paid off and are enjoying life right now. But you still did work you assess off didn't you? 

Having a mini-"excursion" with my wife at Sentosa Cove made me realise how unfair life was. Sentosa Cove had really grand houses which the ordinarily rich would not be able to afford, but the extremely ones would. No wonder they say Singapore is a playground for the rich. Sentosa Cove was like a fake utopic town with few inhabitants but deceptively unguarded bungalow houses with "everything" an ordinary person would wish for. A roof top garden, a pool, a backyard with a docking port for your yatch which leads out to the sea. After experiencing the population count of Sentosa Cove, I can only make an educated guess that the multi-millionaires and above have bought houses there to treat it like a holiday resort. The houses don't even look like resident houses but more like a resort for a weekend getaway. 

Well, back to reality, even though I was truly envious of such a lifestyle, I mustn't let my power of knowledge get the better of me... that life is unpredictable, and extremely vulnerable. 

My appreciation of life has increased by limitless folds, that I find the most intolerable circumstances of my life becoming a mere child's play obstacle course. Regardless of how tough the journey of life gets, treat it as a game that you'll have to play, before you can return to your "real" life. 

My wife and I are huge fans of the reality hit US series, Survivor, but we weren't so only until recently. We decided to check it out (I've only caught Season 1, missed out a good 10+ seasons and finally became a fan) and realised it's no longer a game about a millionaire dollars, but a "game" to "cheat" your way to a milionaire dollars. 

Of course you can try to win it fair and square, but what is fair and square in the context of Survivor? Survivor of the fittest? Or a suvivor of the smartest? Neither, it would seem. Most of the seasons, the winners are "undeserving", because they didn't take charge of the game, and weren't strong at challenges. That way, they wouldn't get on anyone's nerves and would not be seen as a threat. Also, it's a game of false trust, backstabbing and there's lotsa politics. Dirty politics. No such thing as honor in the game of survivor. So why are there so many fans for the reality hit series since it's such a "dishonest" and "dirty" series? 

Initially, we were hooked because of the new game plays by the new participants each season, some eye-candies here and there, and how interesting, exciting and unpredicable situations would crop up now and then. But I realise it wasn't just because of that. Well at least on a consicous level it was. But on a subconscious level, the reason why Survivor has so many fans is because it reflects life, real life. Some of the participants might be acting, to spice up the series, but ultimately, after being stranded on an island for close to a month, their "true colors" show, the true nature of humanity. 

Because as audiences, we get to see the overall picture, but the players don't. I thinik it's even more interesting to put ourselves in the player's shoes because we won't know when someone actually backstabs us (like in real life) and whether who our truest friends really are. 

Which of course, also explains the great success of the hit series Game of Thrones, which has just finished running it's 3rd season. I initially hated it. The first season made me not wanna watch it, because the true hero died an unjustified and horrible death. Where is the justice in this world? Well, here's news for you, there ain't any. Most of the corrupted practices go uncovered, while most of the ones abiding by the rules have to suffer. 

The essence of game of thrones is about politics, sex and backstabbing. How things could be manipulated if given the right ingredients and the harshest of realities, goodness does not and will never triumph over evil. That's just made belief, by the fairy tale stories we were told when we were younger and the false premise that the bad will get their ill deserves and retribution will strike them like God's fingers. 

If that was true, there wouldn't be corruption, murders, rapes, backstabbing, and all the blardy crimes out there. Why are some murderers not found? Because they were hit by a car while crossing the road? Struck by lightning on a stormy night or was stabbed to death by a rogue vigilante? Dream on my friend, for them to commit such crimes, they wouldn't have what we superficial call a "conscience" where it in fact it's just a presence of guilt, and they wouldn't fear retribution or being haunted by the vengeful spirits of the victims they kill. Whether such things exist is another discussion topic altogether, but ultimately, one of life's lessons is that good guys finish last (I'm sure you've also heard of that quote before). 

One has to be moderately good and bad at times, to strike a balance. But even if you're a personification of evil, it doens't mean that you will lead a more miserable life of suffering, you might even be owning a house at Sentosa Cove for all I know. Of course, it's a stereotype, for my jealousy, because I'm quite sure there are also clean multi-millionaires and billionaires out there who had gotten to where they are now by generations of hard work and sweat (yup, I don't think a lifetime is enough, it's like growing a tree, the only way it can develop to a full grown tree in 5 years is either there's some artifical fertilisers or it's not the same "tree" we thought we planted). One such owner had recently hit the headlines, for the wrong reasons and guess what, I wasn't a wee bit surprised. NKF, Ren Chi and then City Harvest. NUS Law Prof, CMB and even an MP. The causes? Game of Thrones sums it all. 

And the main reason why I'm pinning down my thoughts in this post is because of something which happened at my workplace today. I experienced a distasteful act of verbal backstabbing, and thought to myself, even though it didn't happen to me (or my dept, of course this is all based on assumptions since I shudder to think that my dept's "backstabbing" had already taken place since I had a inkling about it a few months back for reasons I shan't disclose because we all know that the internet isn't safe anymore, or was it ever?). 

It was bad, real bad, from my principles point of view, and it was as if I experienced an act of word poisoning. Do not underestimated the power of words, poison words work their way slowly to your heart and mind and unlike an audience of a reality series, you won't know it until it's too late. Worst still, most people don't even know even after it's too late. That's how "evil" the world is. To be more accurate, that's how evil the human race is. I don't blame it on the world, but on my own species. 

I could also choose to go down that path, as long as I accept the knowledge that nothing bad will happen to me even though I do bad, and doing good doens't mean I'll suffer less. I could be more accountable to myself, but that's just plain egoism. However, I've seen how strong words are, and in many instances they could act as poison, in others, as medicine. Words heal, and bring laughter to the world. They heal not just physically, but also spiritually, and emotionally. 

You're suffering from a headache? Well, try taking paracetamol. Words. Think that there's no meaning in life but death? Well, let me tell you a story about the human spirit... Words. Feeling down? Let me tell you a joke. Words yet again. 

Words are like money. There's an abundance of it. But not everyone has a fair share of it. And it's the root of all evil, only if one abuses it. It can be earned, with knowledge and experience. And by definition, words = power. 

PS.: None of the pictures used in this post are mine. I would like to give credit to the sources.