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Today we talk
about animals and animals we eat. In English, these two categories often
have different names. Pigs turn into pork. Cows turn into beef. Sheep is
mutton. Calves are veal. And deer is venison.
But why do we call these animals different names when we prepare them
for a meal? Why is it “pig” on the farm but "pork" in a sandwich?
The answer is the Norman Conquest of Britain in 1066. That is when many
French words became part of the English language. Many of those French
words related to the battlefield, such as “army” and “royal.” Many
related to government and taxation.
And many others related to food.
When animals were in the stable or on the farm, they kept their Old
English names: pig, cow, sheep and calf. But when they were cooked and
brought to the table, an English version of the French word was used:
pork (porc), beef (beouf), mutton (mouton) and veal (veau).
On several websites, word experts claim that this change shows a class
difference between the Anglo-Saxons and the French in Britain at the
time of the conquest.
Because the lower-class Anglo-Saxons were the hunters, they used the Old
English names for animals. But the upper-class French saw these animals
only at mealtimes. So, they used the French word to describe the
prepared dishes. Today, modern English speakers — regardless of social
class — have come to use both.
However, the words “deer" and "venison," however, are a bit more
Etymology Online says "venison" comes from an Old French word from the
1300s (venesoun) meaning "'meat of large game,' especially deer or boar."
And that Old French word comes from a Latin word (venation) meaning "a
hunt, hunting, or the chase."
Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, any hunted animal was called
venison after it was killed. And probably because deer were killed more
than any other animal, “venison” came to mean “deer meat.”
However, “chicken” and “fish” remain largely unchanged.
However, sometimes we use the word "poultry" when talking about buying a
chicken, turkey, or other similar bird to eat. For example, a grocery
store may have a place called “the poultry section.”
But we don't use "poultry" when we order chicken or turkey at a
restaurant, or serve it at a meal. We simply say "chicken" or “turkey.”
For example, if I want to order my favorite dish, which is popular in
the southern part of the United States, I will say, "I’ll have the
chicken and waffles, please." I would never order "poultry and waffles."
Lesser common birds, such as quail and pheasant, simply go by their own
What about fish?
The French word for "fish" is "poisson." Some word experts suspect that
"poisson" is too close to the English word "poison" to become a common
After all, even the food-rich culture of France cannot overcome the fact
that eating poison might kill you or at least make you sick. As a result,
anything that even sounds like “poison” will probably be an unpopular
choice at mealtimes.
category – n. a group of people or things that
are similar in some way Norman Conquest – This major event in history is when William,
duke of Normandy, took control of England. His important victory at the
Battle of Hastings (Oct. 14, 1066) resulted in profound political,
administrative, and social changes in the British Isles conquest – n. the act of taking control of a country, city, etc.,
through the use of force royal – adj. of, relating to, or subject to the crown stable – n. a building in which animals are kept, fed, and cared
for poultry – n. birds (such as chickens and ducks) that are raised
on farms for their eggs or meat quail – n. an Old World migratory game bird : a kind of small
wild bird that is often hunted pheasant – n. a large bird that has a long tail and is often
hunted for food or sport overcome – v. to defeat (someone or something) : to successfully
deal with or gain control of (something difficult)
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