on (not) having a cow

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Mon Jan 24 22:08:49 UTC 2000

At 08:26 PM 1/21/00 -0400, you wrote:
>This is quite interesting to me, and I'm sure to a fellow ADSer, Steve
>Kleinedler--the two of us having just collaborated on a paper at the
>recent LSA running concurrently with the ADS meetings at the Palmer
>House.  The paper was on quasi-generic 'he' and 'man', and it concluded
>with an argument that the closest parallel for the history of 'man' in
>English is provided by 'cow'.  This was our punch line:
>As a final point, we thought it worth noting that we have found one
>lexical item whose history closely parallels that of man, in that what
>started life as a true sex-neutral species label became specialized
>through the passage of centuries to denote primarily the animals of the
>more culturally salient sex while still marginally preserving the original
>generalized species meaning in certain neutralized contexts. That item is
>cow, whose Indo-European ancestor gwo- denoted an ox or other bovine
>sex-neutrally, and which only later came to take on the sex-restricted
>meaning it has primarily borne since Old English, while still marginally
>allowing the quasi-generic use wherein cows may embrace bulls. This might
>explain why it is that we seem fated to go on arguing about the usage and
>meaning of he-man language until the cows come home.
>It might be added that the 'gwo-' root gave birth to 'bovine' as well as
>to 'cow'.  Ah, for some Bovinity Divinity...

"wherein cows may embrace bulls"?!  From what I've seen, it's the other way
around!  (Now, now, I know you italicized the word 'cows'; just
funnin'--and I'll bet you were too.)

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