Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Richness of English - one 'challenging' question.

Quite often at the beginning of the school year, I like to challenge my French students of English and ask them the following question:
Where does the difference between the following words come from? :

  • cow and beef
  • calf and veal
  • swine (or pig) and pork
  • sheep and mutton
  • hen and poultry (although chicken is also used for the meat, ‘poultry’ is never used for the living animal)

Obviously they can figure out that one type of word is for the living animal when the other is for the meat you eat. (although chicken is also used for the meat, ‘poultry’ is never the living animal). But why is that? Where does it come from? Of course, as a teacher of English, I ought to know, (one of the golden rule of teaching is to only ask questions whose answer you know)... but do you?

NOTE: And please, don’t Google or Yahoo or engine-search it, that would be cheating. (I will post the answer in a couple of days.) I'll give you a hint - the answer has to do with a guy called 'Bill'.

NOTE2: I also like to ask them how many tenses there are in English conjugaison...


At 23:13, Blogger A Shave and a Haircut said...

Poultry is frequently used for the living birds, too. Usually, they are the ones that wear themselves out laying eggs and ones that eventually become meat.

I remember something about the doubling up of terms like this coming from early British history when Saxons and Normans both went around naming the same things by the names they were most familiar with.

At 08:34, Anonymous Olivier said...

we English teachers are all the same! It seems we all give the same challenges to our students. Do you also give "liberty and freedom"? Another hint: 1066. Do they GIVE UP? Or ABANDON all hope...?


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