cows & cattle

A. Vine avine at ENG.SUN.COM
Mon Jan 24 19:40:06 UTC 2000

Er, my family owns a ranch.  I am not a greenhorn.  I'm an idiot who owns an SUV
which is, in fact, green, and has a horn. }sigh{

What I'm trying to say is - when people (including me) use "cows" for the
generic, it is _not_ because they don't know the difference between a cow and a
bull.  It is because it is for many people the generic term for the animal.  If
they are referring to the animal, without actually seeing one or a picture of
one, they use "cow".  Not "cow or bull or steer".  When I hear "cattle" it is
either adjectival, or it is because the emphasis is on the collective or group.
Otherwise I hear "cows".  But if you asked these people what the female is
called, they would probably know it was "cow".

It is improper if you're prescriptive, but as it is generally understood, I
would tend to describe the use of "cow" for the generic as proper.


FTA Editor wrote:
> Beverly,
> I know most dictionaries list cows as an acceptable plural form of cow. But
> here in the Hawkeye state, you can always spot a city slicker who refers to
> ?cows? rather than ?cattle.? Since it is caucus time around these here
> parts, this is also a great method for determining which politicians are
> telling the truth about their humble, rural upbringing.
> Andrea,
> Cow is properly defined as female of the species. It is true that it is
> frequently used by urban greenhorns as a generic term for all cattle,
> however improper it may be. A heifer, though, is more than just a female
> cow. It is a female cow who has yet to bear offspring.
> -Mitch Cumstein
> Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 14:44:54 -0800
> From: "A. Vine" <avine at ENG.SUN.COM>
> Subject: Re: Idiom question
> MIME-Version: 1.0
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
> Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
> 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.
> >
> > >So many Western perceptions of India are based on India as seen through
> > >the eyes of the British colonials, including even the city names, which
> >is >why "Bombay" within the last ten years has reverted to its true name of
> > >"Mumbai", "Bombay" being an erroneous British mutilation of the name.
> >
> >Myanmar being another obvious example--the /m/-->/b/ pattern is evident,
> >here and elsewhere?
> Moskva => Moscow => Bosco? Coincidence? You decide.
> Andrea
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Andrea Vine, avine at, Sun-Netscape Alliance i18n architect
"So I just don't see this as an either-or issue as much as an apples
are yummy, and oranges are yummy, too, issue, and every now and then
fruit salad is tasty." -- Matthew Wall

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