Variety Meats--observation

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 11 19:24:53 UTC 2012

Little knowledge a dangerous thing... On one hand, there s a long list
of variety of non-meat cuts on this site. On the other, the etymology
leaves a bit to be desired...
> Sweetbread is the thymus gland of animals. ...
> Such foods, along with other internal organs are called "Offal,"
> meaning, literally, the "off-fall" or off-cuts from the carcass; many
> call these items "variety meats."
> ...
> Sweetbreads come in two varieties. The first is the thymus gland, also
> called the throat sweetbread orgorge in French. The second variety is
> the pancreas, also referred to as the stomach sweetbread or noix in
> French.
> ...
> This soaking , or degorging, produces a whiter and milder tasting
> sweetbread (both of which are desirable characteristics).
> ...
> Rocky Mountain Oysters
> AKA - Prairie Oysters, Mountain Tendergroins, Cowboy Caviar, Swinging
> Beef, Calf Fries and Bull Fries
> ...

The "offal" etymology does match the OED:

> Etymology: < off adv. + fall n.1 Compare Middle Dutch afval , affal
> (Dutch afval ), German Abfall refuse, waste, parings, shavings, offal.
> The form offald recorded in N.E.D. (1902 ) s.v. apparently corresponds
> to affald adj. in Eng. Dial. Dict. s.v. offal sb.1, adj., and v.

OnlineEtDict also has the same:

> late 14c., "waste parts, refuse," from off + fall; the notion being
> that which "falls off" the butcher's block; perhaps a translation of
> M.Du. afval.

OnlineEtDict also has "sweetbread":

> sweetbread
> "pancreas used as food" 1560s, from sweet(adj.); the -bread element
> may be from O.E. bræd "flesh."

OED goes in the same direction, but not quite:

> apparently < sweet adj. + bread n., but the reason for the name is not
> obvious.

> †1. (Only in Old English) Bit, piece, morsel (of food)

EB 1911 also covers"offal"

> OFFAL, refuse or waste stuff, the "off fall," that which falls off
> (cf. Dutch afval, Ger: Abfall). The term is applied especially to the
> waste parts of an animal that has been slaughtered for food, to putrid
> flesh or carrion, and to waste fish, especially to the little ones
> that get caught in the nets with the larger and better fish, and are
> thrown away or used as manure. As applied to grain "offal" is used of
> grains too small or light for use for flour, and also in flour milling
> of the husk or bran of wheat with a certain amount of flour attaching,
> sold for feeding beasts (see Flour).

OED, of course, covers each one separately. What I find intriguing is
that the grain offal shows up first and with earlier citations than the
meat offal.

> 1. a. In /sing./ or (rarely) /pl./ (in later use chiefly /Eng.
> regional/). That which falls or is thrown off from some process, as
> husks from milling grain, chips from dressing wood, etc.; residue or
> waste products.Freq. as the first element in compounds, as /-corn/,
> /-wheat/, /-leather/, /-wood/, etc.: see B. a
> <>.
> /a/1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus /De Proprietatibus
> Rerum/ (BL Add.) f. 195v, Þe poudre of þe offalle of golde.
> /a/1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus /De Proprietatibus
> Rerum/ (BL Add.) f. 243v, Hvlkis and offall and outcast of corne.


> 2.a. The edible parts collectively which are cut off in preparing the
> carcass of an animal for food. In early use applied mainly to the
> entrails; later extended to include the head, tail, and internal
> organs such as the heart, liver, etc. Also occas. as a count noun
> (usu. in /pl./): a piece of offal; a particular type of offal.
> /a/1425 (1399) /Forme of Cury/ 61 in C. B. Hieatt & S. Butler /Curye
> on Inglysch/ (1985) 111 Take the offall of capouns oþer of oþere
> briddes; make hem clene and perboile hem.
> /a/1475 /Liber Cocorum/ (Sloane) (1862) 29 Take þo offal and þo lyver
> of þo swan, In gode brothe þou sethe hom þan.

I would have expected the opposite because 2.a. actually has practical
use while 1.a. simply describes detritus.

With meat, the derivation actually makes sense. The traditional way of
butchering an animal is to hang the whole carcass (dead or alive, in
some cases), split it open and disgorge the entrails, then cut off all
the extra "bits" before butchering the actual "meat", which is not
allowed to fall, but is rather picked up as it is being slice off--if it
is sliced off while hanging at all. So all the stuff that falls to the
ground prior to meat partitioning really is off-fall. This may also
explain why head and brains were late addition to the list of offal, as
the head is often one of the last things detached from the carcass (not
in modern commercial slaughter, though).

As for Rocky Mountain Oysters, the only other euphemism that I can
recall is "naughty bits"--applied, of course, to food as much as to
human parts. I'm sure there is more. On the eggcorn front, there are a
few hits that identify "prairie oysters" with "mountain tenderloin"
rather than "mountain tendergroin", although most ghits show either
"Rocky Mountain" as place of origin or "Mountain" as a part of a brand
name (or both).

Note that neither soaking of offal (as described with sweetbreads above,
or as it is common with liver and kidneys) nor indeed the removal of
entrails from a butchered carcass is listed specifically under
"disgorge" in the OED. Aside from he Draft Addition on winemaking,
"disgorge" article is in desperate need of an update. I guess, we'll
just have to wait for the alphabetical progress.


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