four-footed males, females, and children

Ann Burlingham ann at BURLINGHAMBOOKS.COM
Wed Dec 10 21:46:25 UTC 2008

On Tue, Dec 9, 2008 at 4:07 PM, Mark Mandel <thnidu at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Mark Mandel <thnidu at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: four-footed males, females, and children
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Tue, Dec 9, 2008 at 3:59 PM, Ann Burlingham <ann at> wrote:
>> On Mon, Dec 8, 2008 at 10:23 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
>>> I have to say, Mark said it more clearly in fewer words:
>>>>Or, at least, cow[female] is much
>>>>better known than dog[male]
>>> That are the only grounds on which I can excuse Shortz.  (But he has
>>> exiled dog breeders and cow herders from his clientele.)
>> I don't know - the use of "cow" to refer to other than female cattle
>> drives me crazy, and I grew up on a dairy farm (I still live there,
>> but we don't have dairy cattle any more - someone does raise beef
>> cattle, though).
> Is there a singular of "beef cattle"?

Cows, calves, bulls, and steers. Heifer, too, maybe, unless that's
only a young dairy cow.

> I'm a lifelong city boy; milk used to come in bottles, and now it
> comes in cartons. I have both "cow"[female] and "cow"[nonspecific].

Having had this experience all too recently, there is a big difference
between "a cow got loose" and "a bull got loose." We're pretty clear
with everyone who is on or visits the farm - *never* go into a pasture
with a bull in it. Cows are another thing. I suppose I can say "one of
the cows got loose," but the field is going to be full of mostly or
all cows, anyway.

> How do you feel about "goose" and "duck": can they be generic for you,
> or are they exclusively female (vs. "gander" and "drake")?

No particular feeling, besides literary - I grew up on a dairy farm,
only wild ducks and geese to be seen.

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