In a Latin class today, my students and I looked at the Roman word for cow, bos.  Latin adds its complicated endings to the root of this word, bov. 

From this root, English derives the word bovine.  Something bovine relates to cows.  English even uses bovine as an insult to describe someone slow and dull. 

Latin came to England first with the Romans when Julius Caesar invaded the island in 55 BC.  Little known fact, the invasion was successful because he invaded during tea time.  Latin again invaded the island when the Normans invaded in 1066.  

By the time the Normans invaded, Latin bos had become the French boeuf.  As the Normans took over, they installed French as the official language of England.  Our word beef comes from this period of history.  

While the cow was alive and cared for by the Anglo-Saxon farmers it was a cow.  Cow is from the Old English word cu.  Cu, a Germanic word, is the source of the Dutch koe, German kuh, and Danish ko.

When the cow became a meal on the plate of a Norman lord, it was beef, from the French boeuf.

No one knows for sure how beef turned into a complaint.  Some speculate the term rose from the complaints of soldiers who had a beef with the small amount of beef on their plates.

“The living language is like a cow-path: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change. A cow is under no obligation to stay.”

– E.B. White


If you are learning Latin, I have written a book with all of my best tips and strategies.  It’s available as a free download here:

If you are interested in learning Latin, you can go through the classes on my site 24/7.  I recommend the book Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg.  If you tackle the book and find yourself bogged down, you may find the classes on my site helpful.  To join, just click here:

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Or, if you want to skip Latin, and just jump right into learning English words from Latin and Greek roots, you may enjoy the series Word up!  Warning.   Word up! is a bit wacky.  You will learn a lot… but, you may find yourself rolling your eyes, too.