beef

Definitions

Food

  • The meat of the animal known as a cow (female) or bull (male)

Slang

  • noun a complaint or grudge. This use of the word has occurred in American English since the early years of the 20th century, originating in the speech of criminals, pugilists and marginals, etc. Since the 1940s British speakers have also employed it and it has become a vogue term in youth slang since 2000. The relationship between this sense of the word and its literal meaning is not clear; the colloquial notion of ‘brawn’ may be involved.
  • noun a fight. An item of black street-talk used especially by males, recorded in 2003, based on the older colloquial sense of beef as a grudge or complaint.
  • verb to complain. In the 19th-century language of street sellers, and later in the theatre, beef was associated with shouting, yelling and hence complaining. By the early 20th century the word was in use in the USA in the sense of a grudge or complaint, but it is unclear whether the usages are related.
  • verb to fart. The usage may be inspired by the rhyme or pun on ‘beef-heart’ (a meat product).

Sports

  • noun muscular strength or effort

Origin & History of “beef”

like mutton, pork, and veal, beef was introduced by the Normans to provide a dainty alternative to the bare animal names ox, cow, etc when referring to their meat. Anglo-Norman and Old French boef or buef (which of course became modern French boeuf) came from Latin bov-, the stem of bōs ‘ox’, from which English gets bovine (19th c.) and Bovril (19th c.). Bōs itself is actually related etymologically to cow.

The compound beefeater ‘yeoman warder of the tower of London’ was coined in the 17th century; it was originally a contemptuous term for a ‘well-fed servant’.
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