• beefeater •
beef-eet-êr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Someone who eats beef (properly beef-eater). 2. A properly fed servant. 3. A yeoman of the Guard in the household of the sovereign of Great Britain, who are supposed to stand motionless and focused on the security of the sovereign.
Notes: Today's Good Word's meaning has followed a rather serpentine path. The first sense is rather obvious; the second is an understandable metaphor of the first. The third is a not-so-obvious narrowing of the second. The warders of the Tower of London, also called "beefeaters", wear a different uniform from those who guard Buckingham Palace.
In Play: Let's take the obvious meaning first: "I'm no vegetarian; I simply am not a beef-eater." I was just watching the movie "Patriot Games" and there is an amusing scene at the beginning in which Jack Ryan's small daughter tries to distract a beefeater outside Buckingham Palace. She makes faces, waves her arms, then breaks out into a tap dance. The beefeater never flinches. As she walks away, her comment is, "I'm impressed."
Word History: Beefeater is, of course, a compound noun comprising beef + eater. Beef was borrowed from French boeuf. English has a French borrowing for most of the major animals we eat: lamb : mutton, calf : veal, hog : pork. French boeuf was inherited from Latin bos, bovis "cow, ox", which, in turn, inherited it from PIE gwou- "cow". It turned up in Greek as bous "ox, bull, cow", which we have already seen in boustrophedon. English also got its word bugle from the same PIE word. It came from the Latin diminutive of bos, buculus, since the original bugle was a wild ox horn. (Let's welcome back Monika Freud and thank her for bringing today's fascinating Good Word with her.")
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