International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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History of Vegetarianism
The Origins of Some Words


Meat 1

It is a common misconception, and often argued wrongly by vegetarians, that the use, in the English language, of pig/pork, calf/veal, cow/beef, sheep/mutton etc. has something to do with euphemisms used by meat-eaters pretending they're not eating animals. This is not the case.

In mediaeval England the peasants were Anglo-Saxon but the aristocracy was Norman-French; this followed the conquest of England by William of Normandy (France) in 1066. The aristocracy compelled the peasants to look after the animals but rarely allowed them eat any meat.

The peasants called the animals by the Anglo-Saxon names -- pig, calf, sheep, etc., but the aristocracy, who ate the meat, called it by the French names for the same animals -- porc (pig), veau (calf), boeuf (ox or bullock), mouton (sheep). This got Anglicised slightly over the centuries but this distinction between these animals and the meat has remained in every English-speaking country around the world. Animals which were not commonly eaten by the Norman-French aristocracy, e.g., chicken, turkey, rabbit etc., have the same name for the animal and the meat.

Meat 2

The word "meat" was commonly used, in 16th/17th century England, in the way that we now use the word "food", it was onlt during the 19th century that 'meat' came to mean specifically 'flesh'.. There are some interesting examples of this in the Bible where the Greek word "broma", meaning "food", was translated in the King James version, as "meat".

This created some oddities such as Genesis 1, 30: "I have given every green herb for meat". Since Adam and Eve had never eaten flesh this doesn't make sense unless it reads "I have given every green herb for food". Which is how the English at the time of King James would have understood it anyway.

This was not a mistranslation of the Bible, as some have claimed. The translation at the time was perfectly correct, it's just our usage of 'meat' which has changed.