Something New Every Day: prestigious French
If you’ve ever wondered why the food we eat isn’t named for the animal it comes from, here’s why. French language (as it was being absorbed into old English after 1066) was reserved for ‘high concepts’ where as old English was used for more common/peasant language. And of course the concept of cuisine is both French and prestigious and so the French word was used and became mainstream while the actual animal itself, wallowing around in muddy fields, could not be any more pedestrian and so got to keep its common/Old English word.
The anglo saxon peasants might herd a COW (old english), but they ate BEEF (or Buef in old French which meant oxen). A commoner in England might kill the fatted CALF but when cooked it became VEAL (veel was the old French for calf). DEER ran free in the English woods but on a plate it was referred to as VENISON (venesoun in old French which meant any large game meat).
I’m wondering if the exception might be PHEASANT (fesaunt in French). Seems to be called the same for all, perhaps because it was so plentiful?
The History of the English Language is a university level course courtesy of TheGreatCourses.com and is available as a podcast, CD or DVD