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I was always under the impression that when referring to the meat from, e.g., pigs or cows one would always use pork or beef respectively. In conversations I have observed people saying things like "I don't eat pig". I don't know if they were native speakers and what their language level was.

  • Was this improper use? If not, would "eating cow" etc. also be okay?
  • Was this colloquial?
  • I believe in this particular case it was due to religious reasons. The situation was during a BBQ when presented with choices of pork and other meats. Could this play a role?
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    I would hazard a guess that they were vegetarians (or, as you say, had a religious objection to pig meat) and were trying to make a point. Also, don't forget that bacon comes from pigs too. Apr 28, 2023 at 7:43
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    I've noticed this twist too. Informal settings, by saying "pig" you're reminding the listener(s) that their spare ribs come from an animal. You'd think everyone knows this, but if you think about it hamburgers and frankfurters (sausages) don't resemble a dead animal. P.S I am not a veggie :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 28, 2023 at 8:00
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    @musiKk My favorite barbecue place lists their basic pulled pork sandwich on the menu as "pig on a bun". It comes across as an informal, rural way of talking (which, given that barbecue as a cuisine is associated with the rural American South, is likely the intent).
    – Hearth
    Apr 28, 2023 at 15:11
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    I've heard quite many adult non-native speakers also say "pig". Probably because of lack of vocabulary. You learn animal names pretty much in your first English lesson. Thus, it may not be correct, but it is understood. Apr 28, 2023 at 16:14
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    Bit OT, but due to the Norman (ie. French) invasion, English got two versions of many words - the Saxon word the common people used, and the nice, upperclass French the Normans used... For example Saxon "pig" and French "porc, or Saxon "sheep" and French "mouton"... Often the Saxon word was used for the animal, and the French for the food/meat. Apr 30, 2023 at 11:05

6 Answers 6

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There's already a good answer on the history of using the word 'pork', but I'd like to offer a more direct answer to your question of "would we ever say it".

In everyday conversation, no - the names of meats are used to refer to what we are eating (ie "I don't eat pork"). Even though there are many other names for different types of meat that come from a pig (eg bacon, ham, shoulder etc), "pork" is used as an umbrella term for the meat of a pig in the same way that "beef" can refer all the meat from a cow.

However, it isn't entirely uncommon for people to say things like "I don't eat pig". For example, many vegetarians and vegans feel that the names of meats 'dehumanise' animals, and may feel they make a better statement in favour of their diet by saying they don't eat animals, rather than saying they don't eat meat. There are also those who may eat other types of meat but not pork, either for personal or possibly religious reasons. While these are most likely to use the term 'pork' when explaining their stance, there are other edible products that come from animals which are not 'meat', such as gelatin, and so stating that they don't eat 'pig' might actually be the best explanation.

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    Thank you, that is an interesting view. I know many vegetarians but this has not come up or crossed my mind yet.
    – musiKk
    Apr 28, 2023 at 9:48
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    @musiKk I'm not saying that all vegetarians say that. One famous vegetarian, the singer Morrissey, tends to say "I don't eat flesh" for similar effect. My point is that it isn't 'wrong' to say it, but it isn't common, so when you do it stands out as unusual and your listeners would likely look for some significance as to why you had phrased it that way.
    – Astralbee
    Apr 28, 2023 at 9:56
  • @DoneWithThis. If that debate is ever answered, it won't be here on English Language Learners. But 'fish' is an interesting mention because the one word can describe almost anything that swims, as well as the 'meat' of said creatures. 'Fish' is not a species group. So saying "I don't eat fish" could have so many nuances. Would you eat a crustacean, for example?
    – Astralbee
    Apr 28, 2023 at 11:02
  • Some items of diet made from dead creatures have the same name as the creature - horse, chicken, some game, lamb, goat, most fish. Apr 28, 2023 at 11:03
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    @Lambie that's what the answer says
    – user253751
    Apr 28, 2023 at 16:44
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The answer to your question is rooted in English history. In 1066, the Normans invaded England and defeated the Saxons at the battle of Hastings. From then on, there was a french-speaking Norman aristocracy and old german speaking Saxon peasantry.

The Saxons were the food producers, and so the animals in the field had names with German roots- pig, cow, sheep. The Normans were the food consumers, so those same animals were referred to at the table with french-derived names: pork, beef, mutton.

A thousand years later, some of those differences still exist, so you don't refer to what you eat by the field name, unless you are making a joke or a point of some kind. The difference in naming is socio-political rather than religious.

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    Useful and interesting as this may be for the OP, it doesn't answer the question why someone today would say "I don't eat pig" instead of "…eat pork“
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 28, 2023 at 7:55
  • Very interesting point. In French, there is not such a strong distinction between the animal and its meat, as, e.g., in porc vs. cochon. Apr 28, 2023 at 15:39
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    @Mari-LouA actually it does, "unless you are making a joke of some kind." That's one of the most common reasons for this kind of reference. "Hand me some of that pig, I'm hungry!" Deliberately using the wrong word for humorous or ironic effect.
    – barbecue
    Apr 28, 2023 at 21:01
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    @barbecue I disagree because the OP says ‘I have observed people saying things like "I don't eat pig"’ That doesn't sound funny at all to my ears. Maybe it depends on the delivery and the circumstances but this answer tells us why English has one word for the animal (fish and poultry are excluded) and one for its flesh.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 28, 2023 at 22:29
  • @JavaLatte In Australia and New Zealand we used to eat mutton, from the French mouton; mutton was meat from a mature sheep (an older woman could be called "mutton dressed as lamb" if she wore clothing that suited a younger woman better). Mutton has disappeared from supermarkets; all dead sheep are now sold as "lamb". Apr 29, 2023 at 22:28
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The fact it's a negative sentence is likely the reason.

Whilst lard & gelatin (and occasionally even ham or bacon) are all edible products derived from pigs, they're often not thought of by people who do eat pork as pork, or only as "technically" pork. If asked if their pie contains pork, lots of people will reply "no" even if it contains lard or gelatin.

Meanwhile, lots of people (primarily Jews and Muslims) observe religious prohibitions against eating pork, but with the broader definition that may include lard & gelatin (and certainly includes ham or bacon), and so to avoid this confusion of definitions may use the unusual phrase to emphasise that they don't eat anything that comes from a pig.

My spouse (who is Jewish) has often said they "don't eat pig" for exactly this reason.

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  • I've also heard the phrasing "don't eat swine" used when voicing religious objectives. Given that "swine" is arguably a more pejorative word than "pig", this phrasing may serve to emphasize the unclean nature of the animal in the speaker's belief system. May 1, 2023 at 14:08
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Yes, although the situation is not very common.

If you were roasting a whole pig, you might say something like "I'm ready to eat some pig"

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    I like that take. When the animal is visible using its name is more likely. When it's just a slab of meat and the slaughtering was done elsewhere, it's time to use the name for the meat. Apr 30, 2023 at 14:21
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In addition to the other answers which address this usage in the negative sense ("I don't eat pig"), you may hear someone say that they do eat pig if they are exaggerating the amount of pork eaten, often for comedic effect.

He had so much pork that I think he ate an entire pig!

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English has several doublets where, for the historical reasons that @JavaLatte mentioned, an animal has an Anglo-Saxon name when it's alive, but a French name when it's served as meat:

  • cow and beef
  • calf and veal
  • sheep and mutton
  • deer and venison
  • pig and pork
  • bird and poultry — but individual species like chicken, turkey, and duck do not make the distinction

So normally, an observant Jew, Muslim, Seventh-Day Adventist, or Rastafarian would say “I don't eat pork.”

I can think of two reasons why he may say “I don't eat pig” instead. The boring one is that English is not his first language and he's just not used to the pig/pork distinction. The other is that he's deliberately using blunt language.

When you think about it, English meat names are a bit euphemistic. By using a different set of words for meats than for the animals that they come from, we obscure the fact that meat is animal flesh, hiding it behind fancy French words. Of course, since it's been almost a thousand years since the Norman Conquest, most people don't think of a word like “pork” as “euphemistic” or even as “French”; it's just a normal English word. But the etymology is there.

Saying “I don't eat pig” rejects the euphemism, focusing on the animal. It's as if to say “Would I eat this disgusting creature that rolls around in filth? That can carry swine flu or trichinosis? Ugh! Hell no!” It evokes a sense of disgust, that the sanitized term “pork” doesn't.

For a vegetarian or vegan, the sense of disgust would apply to eating any animal meat, not just pig/pork, and would have different reasons than for a Jew or Muslim, but similar logic applies: Eating an animal has a worse emotional connotation than eating meat.

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