Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, August 18, 2016



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 term white meat, so that while discussing their meal, diners wouldn’t have to use racy terms like breast. The euphemism dark meat helped Victorians avoid equally racy terms like leg & 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

And, of course, there are any number of meat idioms referring to sexual parts.

All starting with mad-


Please leave any meaty thoughts in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.


  1. I remember learning that "meat" or "mete" meant any kind of food from the old round we used to sing at camp "Hey ho, nobody at home. Meat nor drink nor money have I none. Yet will I be ha-a-p-py."

    And I guess we still use it in the original way when talking about pet food. "Wet food" is meaty and "dry food" is more plant-based.

    But I must say that calling meat "moist" food is enough to make one go vegetarian.

    1. Hi Anne - I'm with you on the "moist food" definition, but I can't very well switch to vegetarianism, since I've been there for 20+ years. Thanks for coming by.

  2. A vegetarian delving into the realm of meat. The things one does for one's craft. My favorite was the origination of white and dark meat. I would never have thought it had prudish origins.

    1. Hey Christine - had you heard that those prudish Victorians were so offended by the suggestive curves of Queen Anne furniture, they had "pants" made for chairs & tables in the name of decency? Love that. Thanks for coming by.