Beef dressed as lamb
"Was writing a friend," says Ann Kullberg "and used the phrase if you have a beef with... and paused to wonder at how THAT usage of beef ever came into usage. Any clues? Thanks for trying!"
There are lots of instances of beef as a piece of slang over the centuries, but I'm not sure how it started.
The oldest reference, according to Jonathan Lighter's wonderful Historical Dictionary of American Slang, is from the 1698 Dictionary of the Canting Crew, where it is defined as to raise a hue and cry: "They whiddle (inform) beef, and we must brush (fly)".
Capt Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) says: "To cry beef: to give the alarm" and "to be in a man's beef, to wound him with a sword." As usual, beef soon took on a sexist meaning. Grose also says that to be in a woman's beef means to have carnal knowledge of her.
Lighter, who does not have the freedom from the need for political correctness that Grose had, mentions also that beef stands for "the penis; (hence) copulation as experienced by a woman. See also hot beef injection - usually considered vulgar." Amen to that, Jonathan.
Some references suggest that "brawn" may be involved in the complaint meaning of beef, although I don't see the relevance.
Beef is also used in the US beef bayonet and Australian beef bugle (penis, again), and the British beef curtains (breasts) and beefer (homosexual). Is there no end to people's politically incorrect inventiveness?
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