1/24/11

The Origins of "You Got Beef"

I have heard beef used in many contexts that pertain to altercation, but mostly in the following two forms. "You got beef with me?" and "I ain't got no beef with you."  The first is meant to provoke an argument or fight, while the second is often used to prevent conflicting circumstances.

Using my super human powers of deduction, I have concocted two likely scenarios for the way these phrases came into existence.


1. Cow Co-Op



 In the old days, before rich Americans inhabited the earth and beef flowed from geysers, people were too poor to own cows by themselves. They had to put together their measly sums of money and purchase a cow together.

As we all know, the dual ownership of a cow can drive a wedge between people. Who gets to take the cow home today? Jim isn't respecting our mutual rules for the cow's bed time, and Herman thinks the cow should be allowed to watch rated R movies.

In this incarnation of, "You got beef with me?” the phrase is referring to physical, legal, and/or emotional ownership of the beef.  

As parties began to argue over the best interests of the cow and slanderous accusations started to fly, one party was sure to mention that neither of them actually had the beef yet, with the phrase. "You got beef?".  

The co-ownership of the cow often became too stressful and the cow was usually slaughtered, but at times it lead to intense fighting. Some scholars believe a cow co-op is what started the Hatfield-McCoy feud. 

These fights or "Cow Feuds" were usually solved via a duel, sword fight, or hardy argument.  In the end the winner of said competition would have the first choice of beef, or if his competition did not survive he would own all beef.

If the person challenged could not stand up to said competition he would bow out with the phrase, "I have no beef with you". Thereby, for-fitting first choice of beef to said opponent.

The phrase, “I have no beef with you", was also used to back out of a cow co-op in which the cow was sick or problematic and one of the parties tried to get out of his obligation to take care of the cow.


2. The Beef Commodity



At some point in American history, beef became so rare and valuable that it was considered a commodity. Beef was traded and bought on markets like gold, sweet tender delicious gold. So, you had to have a quick turnaround time on your investment, lest your spoils spoil.

During this time of increasing value and beef prosperity, the less fortunate would go on beefing raids. They would break into butcher shops and people's homes to steal all the beef they could carry.

When this phenomenon began, people would run after their beef screaming, "You got my beef", eventually the word "my" was dropped to save time. After an epidemic of beef thievery (biefery?), calling someone out with "You Got Beef" became an extreme sign of disrespect.

On the contrary those that were falsely accused or faking innocence would answer, “I do not have beef with you". This eventually transferred into avoidance of conflict and backing out of fights.

It's hard to say where the mysterious origins of "Having beef" began, but as it is an increasing part of our American vernacular, I feel it is my duty to half-heartedly guess.

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2 Response to The Origins of "You Got Beef"

January 24, 2011 at 3:37 PM

oh my.

January 24, 2011 at 4:17 PM

yup, oh my!

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