Idiom question

Peter A. McGraw pmcgraw at LINFIELD.EDU
Fri Jan 21 23:19:38 UTC 2000

--On Fri, Jan 21, 2000 2:44 PM -0800 "A. Vine" <avine at ENG.SUN.COM> wrote:

> Beverly Flanigan wrote:
>>   The basic problem in this country, of course,
>> is that non-rural people no longer know the difference between cows,
>> heifers, bulls, and steers!
> I don't think that is the "problem".  The term "cow" is the generic term
> for the animal, regardless of sexual status.  If you say "heifer", you're
> only talking about a female cow.  If you say "bull" or "steer", you're
> only talking about a male cow (with a difference in sterility).  But if
> you say "cow", you're not specifying the sex.

Maybe you're not, Andrea, but I certainly am!  I would never call a bull or
a steer a "cow," and I would be secretly amused to hear anyone actually use
the phrase "male cow."  For me, the only word available to encompass both
bull and cow is "bovine," or the collective "cattle."  I might pass a
pasture and say, "Look at the cows," not paying attention to whether there
were also a couple of bulls or steers there.  But if I did pay attention, I
would probably add something like, "Oh, there's a bull [or a couple of
steers], too."  A cow is already marked as female; a heifer is further
marked as young and female.


                               Peter A. McGraw
                   Linfield College   *   McMinnville, OR
                            pmcgraw at

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