Wednesday, January 21, 2009

on my lunch

A coworker killed my lunch. With a gun. It used to be a deer. Then, sometime after its death, it transformed from deer into "venison." What's the deal with this meat shift?

Bull = live, beef = dead
chicken = live, chicken = dead
pig = live, pork = dead

So there's no logic. Perhaps its a portion thing - like beef is a certain part of the cow. But I thought beef was the whole cow, and things like steak / roast, etc. were the parts. Is it because we are trying to distance ourselves from the animal?
Also, why do we say certain types of meat are "gamy." Like, say, hunted game is gamy?


Greg Trotter said...

is that how you spell "gamy" or is "gamey"? venison is some good shit though. i think i might shoot my first deer while in missouri. thoughts?

Jonathan Rubin said...

1. Watch Deer Hunter 42 times
2. Play "Deer Hunter" at Dave & Busters
3. Shoot that sucker (permits and deer population permitting)
4. Watch Bambi
5. Sneak some venison into Kerry's Cheerios

Jonathan Rubin said...

From my genius friend who for some reason cannot figure out how to post on this blog:

Animals as food
( from

Those of us who are omnivores and eat meat are probably familiar with the fact that sheep on the table is mutton, cows in the kitchen are beef, and pigs in the oven are pork. In other words, English has different words for animals in the pasture and for the meat that comes from them. This is, simply put, an artifact of the Norman Conquest. When some French-speaking Vikings known as Normans ("North men") invaded England in 1066, they brought their language with them and imposed it upon the court, the government, fashion, and other matters of expensive taste. This included food, at least the food eaten by the new aristocracy.

They're too cute to call mutton!While the Anglo-Saxons called a certain species of ruminant sheep, the French called it mouton. It would seem that the Anglo-Saxon population kept their Old English word sheep when speaking amongst themselves but adopted the Norman-French word from their transactions with their new masters. Presumably, these transactions were generally between master and servant or, at best, customer and merchant. Hence, to this day, we speak of sheep when raising them on the farm but mutton when it is a commodity for sale or prepared for the table. By the way, mutton's etymology is not known, though the Celtic languages possess cognates. Sheep is of Teutonic origin.

The Old English word for an animal of bovine persuasion was cow, but the French called it bouef (which comes from the same source as bovine: Latin bos "ox"). Therefore, the cows which became food were called bouef, and that word eventually became beef. Cow comes ultimately from the same Indo-European root as Latin bos; it is *gwou- "ox, bull, cow".

The animal known as a swine to the English was porc to the French, so "the other white meat" came to be called pork in English. The same is true for veal, which comes ultimately from Latin vitulus "calf". It is the French word for "calf", and so the meat of a calf is not called calf in English today but, instead, veal. Poultry, a generic term for chicken and similar meats, comes from French poulet "young fowl, chicken". However, in this case, English chicken continued to be used to refer to the flesh of that bird in addition to poultry. Why? Perhaps because chicken as food was more frequently available to the English-speaking lower classes than the other meats, as chicken is much less costly to raise and keep.

While chickens may have been more easily obtained as food by the English lower classes than some other meats, pork had been a popular food throughout the British Isles for a very long time before the French arrived. That explains why Old English had its own word for "bacon", which was flitch, though that was replaced by bacon after the French invasion.

One cannot discuss the word flitch without a passing mention of the Dunmow Flitch. The village of Dunmow in Essex, England, periodically awards a side of bacon to a married couple who can prove that they have spent a year and a day without a cross word. This seems to be innately self-limiting. The only couples who can actually prove that they lived in conjugal bliss are those who had a witness living with them. A mother-in-law, perhaps. Ah, there's the rub! Mais, revenons à nos moutons...

That our ancient forebears went in for pork (or should we say pig, hog or swine) in a big way is indicated by the number of words we have for it. There's shoat, that's a pig which has been weanedThey're too cute and intelligent to eat! but is not yet fully grown. And there's hog, a word of unknown origin meaning "a pig raised for slaughter". (Was there any other reason?) Then there are the twins, barrow and farrow. Now a barrow is a "castrated boar" (this is also another meaning of hog) but a farrow is just a "young pig". These two words form what is know as a doublet: two words from a common origin which have reached English by different routes. Barrow (Old English barg) comes from a Teutonic group of words (e.g. Old High German barug, Dutch barg) meaning a male pig, or boar. Farrow also comes from Old Teutonic but is more closely related to the Dutch varken "pig" (as in aardvark "earth pig") and the Latin porcus.