Idiom question

A. Vine avine at ENG.SUN.COM
Fri Jan 21 23:40:39 UTC 2000

"Peter A. McGraw" wrote:
> --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

So, your generic term for the animal is "bovine"?  If you were trying to talk
about the animal in generic terms, where it made no sense to use the
plural/collective "cattle", you would always use "bovine"?  And you wouldn't
feel like you sounded pretentious?

Anyway, my point is not that urban folk don't know the difference between a cow,
heifer, bull, and steer.  It's that there is no need for a distinction when they
use "cow".  And "bovine" sounds scientific, over-educated, or affected.  "Look,
there's a computer box with a bovine print!"  "I have a cream pitcher in the
shape of a bovine." "What sound does a bovine make?"


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