Posted by: Jack Henry | July 18, 2018

Editor’s Corner: More than chops

At the end of June, I shared some folk etymologies of common animals with you. One of you asked if I might continue with an article on the etymologies of animals but from a different angle. While these are also common animals, the etymologies our coworker was asking about were for pigs/pork, cows/beef, and other critters many folks commonly chow down on. In other words, why don’t we talk about getting some roast cow or feasting on a sheep? Why is it beef and mutton we eat?

This is a very interesting question you ask, and the answer goes all the way back to 1066, when the Normans conquered Britain. Here to give you the full story is an article from The Daily Meal.

When the French took over England, there became two ways of saying a whole lot of words, and from a gastronomic standpoint the French won out (as they usually do). This is likely because the lower-class Anglo-Saxons were the hunters (so we get the animal names from them), and the upper-class French only saw these animals on the dinner table (so we get the culinary terms from them).

So the Anglo-Saxon pig became the French porc, which was Anglicized to pork; the Anglo-Saxon cow became the French boeuf, which became beef; and sheep became mouton, (later mutton). Even chicken got a new culinary name: pullet, which is the Anglicized version of the French poulet, and is now only used to refer to a young hen. All of those French terms are still the French words for those animals (as well as their meat) today. As for fish, we most likely still call it fish because the French term for it, poisson, is too close to the English word poison.

The reason behind calling deer meat “venison” is slightly more complicated, but still has to do with the Norman Invasion (deer in French is cerf, which doesn’t sound much like “venison”). According to Yahoo, the word venison derives from the Latin word venor, meaning “to hunt or pursue.” Following the invasion and the establishment of the Royal Forests, any hunted animal was called “venison” after it was killed; because more deer were hunted than any other animal, the name stuck.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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