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 wiki.answers.com, 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 www.straightdope.com, 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 askville.amazon.com, as quoted:
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 oxforddictionaries.com: