Though we spell it meat, in Old English it was spelled mete & meant simply, food. It came from a Proto-Indo-European mad-, meaning moist or wet. This same root turned into an Irish word meaning pig, a German word meaning sausage, two Sanskrit words (a noun meaning fat, & a verb meaning bubbling), plus a Latin adjective meaning drunk.
It wasn’t until 1300 that meat (or mete as it was spelled at the time) moved from meaning food to the more specialized meaning, edible flesh. In the next century or so, vegetables could be referred to in English as grene-mete.
It appears those prudish Victorians coined the euphemisms white meat and dark meat, so that while discussing their meal, diners wouldn’t have to use racy terms like breast, leg or thigh.
Some of meat’s etymological moments include:
meatloaf – (main course of ground meat, breadcrumbs & seasonings) 1876
meat market – (a place one looks for sex partners) 1896
meat – (the essential part) 1910
meat-hooks – (fingers, hands or arms) 1919
meat wagon – (ambulance) 1920
like a blind dog in a meat market – (out of control) 1928
dead meat – (someone with no hope of surviving) 1948
meat grinder – (mill for grinding meat) 1951
Please leave any meaty thoughts in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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