The English language is a complicated mess of words and grammatical concepts stolen from several other languages, which can make it arguably one of the most difficult languages to learn for people who try to understand it, let alone people trying to learn it as a second language. Many concepts do not seem to follow any general rules, which leads to several common grammar mistakes throughout English.
One such word that is completely borrowed from the etymological additions that other languages make to English is the word “beef.” This word has a very complicated background and history, and as such, its grammatical forms and pluralization do not follow any typical rules that most words follow. In this article, let’s explore the proper use of our word of the day beef, how to pluralize it, look for its synonyms, and learn its context.
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To first understand a word, its history, and how to use it properly, it is important first to define what it actually means. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of beef is “the flesh of an adult domestic bovine (such as a steer or cow) used as food.” A note adds that the term “beef” is especially used to describe bovine animals like a steer or cow fattened for food. So in short, beef is the food that we eat that makes up things like roast beef, fast food hamburgers, meatballs, steaks, and other fine staples based on the flesh of a cow.
The plural of beef, according to Merriam Webster, is correct in two forms: beefs or beeves (pronounced biːvz). If your first reaction is that those both sound utterly ridiculous, you would not be alone. Thankfully, culture defines a language and not the other way around, meaning that whatever culture deems to be correct will eventually come to be recognized as the “correct” answer by the dictionary. For example, the word beefing has also come to mean having an argument with someone, according to modern slang. You might also call someone beefy if they have a lot of brawn.
What Is the Plural Form of Meat?
The plural of meat is simply meats and can be either a countable noun or an uncountable noun, sometimes called a mass noun, meaning that it can be used to refer to an undefined plural number or a very specific count of different meats. However, sometimes when used as an uncountable noun, it is used in the singular, e.g., “We had several kinds of meat for dinner.” However, you can also say with perfect acceptance the phrase “We had several meats for dinner,” but you may find that the latter is somewhat going out of style.
What Does the Word Beeves Mean?
Beeves is, unfortunately, considered to be a correct plural form of beef, and is used to describe multiple different kinds, varieties, or cuts of beef. For example, if you are describing the pieces of beef at a local butcher shop, you could both say “the butcher had a wide variety of beef” or “a wide variety of beeves”; both would be culturally acceptable. However, as mentioned above, the language you use has to be a product of the audience you are communicating to because culture drives language. So at the end of the day, check your audience before you just start using the word beeves liberally.
The History and Origin of the Word
One of the best ways to learn why a word has the grammatical rules that it actually has is by exploring its etymology. The history and origin of a word can reveal a lot about where the word came from, and since English just borrows grammatical concepts from other languages, it may also help with learning its grammar.
According to EtymOnline.com, beef was first used in the early fourteenth century and originally meant “an ox, bull, or cow”, or also the flesh of one when butchered and used as food. This word derived from the Old French “buef” (pronounced bœuf), which meant ox, beef, or ox hide, which in turn came from the Latin “bovem,” or “bōs” which also meant ox or cow. It turns out that the majority of the English language is derived from Latin and Greek by way of other European languages such as Spanish, French, or German.
The word beef also has a secondary meaning as a verb, which falls under the slang category and may not be widely used. “To beef” is to complain, argue, or cause problems with another individual and is usually a colloquial term with some slight variations.
Examples of the Word in Context
Another good way to learn a word and apply it to your own vocabulary is to hear it used properly. Reading it or hearing a word used in its correct context is a great way to learn how to use it yourself. Here are some common examples of the word beef used in conversation:
“Have you been to the grocery store yet today? If not, could you pick up a couple of pounds of ground beef for the chili that we are making this weekend? It’ll taste great with an IPA.”
“These cows will make great beef, just look at the way they were raised!”
“Excellent choice of beeves, sir, I am quite pleased with the selection you have available.”
“David and Alexis have beef currently; they have been in there, arguing for over an hour over Tumblr.”
Synonyms for Beef
Exploring words with similar definitions is the last good way to really understand how to properly implement a word into your own vocabulary. Here are some common synonyms for the word beef:
Meat, a general term to describe the flesh of an animal used as a food
Complaint, a synonym for the word beef when used to describe someone’s negative attitude
Chicken, not a synonym, but an example of a similar word that may help establish context
Hopefully, now that you have reached the end of this article, you feel prepared to use the word beef in your regular dialog. Just keep in mind that knowing your audience is the first step towards actually using a word correctly. Good luck!
Kevin Miller is a growth marketer with an extensive background in Search Engine Optimization, paid acquisition and email marketing. He is also an online editor and writer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He studied at Georgetown University, worked at Google and became infatuated with English Grammar and for years has been diving into the language, demystifying the do's and don'ts for all who share the same passion! He can be found online here.