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political satire

Cows, sheep and pigs are known as beef, mutton and pork when we eat them.

But why no parallel word for chicken meat?

There’s a well-known pattern in English that says a lot about the social dynamics after the Norman Conquest: our words for farm animals descend from Old English, the Germanic language that grew from the speech of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, etc.. . . while our words for meat descend from Norman French and ultimately from Latin. The Anglo-Saxon peasants had to raise cows, calves, sheep, and pigs, but the Norman lords got to eat the beef, veal, mutton, and pork.

To continue the pattern. . . I went looking in the excellent Anglo-Norman Dictionary for inspiration here. There are several Norman words we could use, but none of them seem to fit. The Norman French word for a young chicken was pullet, variously spelled (polet, polette, pulete, pulette; compare modern French poulet). It seems to be a derivative of pulle, itself from Latin pullus, which originally meant the young of any animal. It could be used for chicken meat: the Dictionary cites a text from 1396 that reads: Et aprés lui serviront de grande chare come de boef, motone, porc et veel et puis de gelyns, poullez et pullettz, poucyns. “And afterwards, they served him much meat such as beef, mutton, pork and veal, and then hen, chicken and pullet, chick.” So we could in theory use derivatives of gelyn (hen), poulle (chicken), pullet(young chicken), and poucyn (even younger chicken) to refer to meat, in parallel with boef, motone, porc, and veel.

The thing is that pullet already exists in English, but it’s not generally used for the meat in general; it means a young (whole) chicken. Poultry also exists in English, coming from Norman (pulleterie), and it’s used collectively for all domesticated birds raised for meat and eggs; ducks, chickens, and geese would all be poultry. You could say “I eat poultry”, meaning that you eat the meat of chickens, ducks, and/or geese. But poultry is not specific to chickens only.

So we need a new word for, specifically, the meat of a Gallus domesticus, because pullet and poultry are already taken.

We can take it from another of the words listed above. Poucyn sounds like a good one; it was also spelled poucin, pucin, pocin, posine, and so on, ultimately from Latin pullicenus. An Anglicized descendant of poucyn should be something like “pussin.” But apparently there was a tendency in Middle English to reduce final /n/ in Norman words; for example, Norman hautein gave rise to English haughty (see Cambridge Anglo-Norman Texts; also Jesperson, A Modern English Grammar, vol. I, pp. 31–33). Which suggests that the most authentic English derivative from a Norman French word that could be used for “chicken meat” would actually be “pussy.”

So that’s the word I would propose to mean “flesh of a chicken.” It makes perfect linguistic sense: pussy < poucyn < pullicenus, and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *pau-, “few; little; small.”

“He says he’s a vegetarian but he still eats pussy sometimes.”

“How did you get your pussy so moist and flavorful?”

“It’s easy! I just stuff my pussy with wedges of lemon and peeled whole garlic cloves, rub the outside with black pepper and olive oil, and then tie the legs together with twine.”

“I really like those sandwiches at Puss-Fil-A, but Kentucky Fried Pussy is pretty good too.”

This makes perfect linguistic sense to me. But if for some reason this word should be undesirable, we can always derive another one based on the Norman French word for “rooster”: cok. So you readers can all decide whether you prefer cock or pussy.

Oh, you’re quite welcome. Don’t mention it.

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