From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search
See also: Cattle


English Wikipedia has an article on:
A herd of cattle on a farm


From Middle English catel, from Anglo-Norman catel (personal property), from Old Northern French (compare French cheptel, Old French chetel, chatel, also English chattel) from Medieval Latin capitāle, from Latin capitālis (of the head) (whence also capital, from caput (head) + -alis (-al)). For the sense evolution, compare pecuniary and fee. Doublet of capital and chattel.



cattle pl (normally plural, singular cattle)

  1. Domesticated animals of the species Bos taurus (cows, bulls, steers, oxen etc).
    Do you want to raise cattle?
  2. Certain other livestock, such as sheep, pigs or horses.
    • 1848, William Makepeace Thackeray, chapter 29, in Vanity Fair[1], page 246:
      Mr. Jos had hired a pair of horses for his open carriage, with which cattle, and the smart London vehicle, he made a very tolerable figure in the drives about Brussels.
    • 1859, Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities[2], Book the First, chapter 2:
      The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.
  3. (derogatory, figuratively) People who resemble domesticated bovine animals in behavior or destiny.
    • 1961, Gerald Hanley, The Journey Homeward[3], page 155:
      "I always knew it, but I always denied it, because I'm one of them, and I'm like them." ¶"We're just cattle," the Prison Governor said, relieved now.
  4. (obsolete, English law, sometimes countable, plural cattles) chattel
    goods and cattle
    • 1552, Parliament of England, An Act for the Uniformity of Common Prayer, and Service in the Church, and Administration of the Sacraments[4]:
      That then every person so offending and convict, shall for his third offence, forfeit to our Sovereign Lady the Queen, all his goods and cattles, and shall suffer imprisonment during his life.
    • 1684, Records of the Colony of New Plymouth, in New England, published 1856:
      1684 July. Mistris Dorothy Gray, Adminnestratrix of the Goods and Cattles of Mr Edward Gray, late of Plymouth, deceased, []
  5. (uncountable, rare) Used in restricted contexts to refer to the meat derived from cattle.
    • a. 1964, Stephen Henry Roberts, The Squatting Age in Australia, 1835-1847[5], Melbourne University Press, published 1964, page 315:
      The temptation of a lone white man was too great for any gathering of myall-natives, and sheep-fat and cattle-steak seemed there for the spearing, so that a stockman always ran the risk of attack, especially if his shepherds interfered with the native women.
    • a. 1978, Barry Hannah, “Eating Wife and Friends”, in Airships, Grove Press, published 1994, →ISBN, page 137:
      “But you cooked a human being and ate him,” say I.
      “I couldn’t help it,” says she. “I remember the cattle steaks of the old days, the juicy pork, the dripping joints of lamb, the venison.”
    • 1996 April 3, Emmett Jordan, “Re: AR activist arrested for spreading 'Mad Cow' disease in US”, in[6] (Usenet):
      Believe it or not Big Mac is one of the ultra radicals who provide fast food cattle burgers to interstate vehicles who drive all over the place providing scraps for rats, cats, flies, etc, so that the Mad Cow Disease might spread even faster than it would otherwise do.
    • 2005 June 25, "Serge" (username), "Re: WOW!!!! WHALE BURGERS...... McDonalds[sic] Don't You Get Any Ideas", in aus.politics and other newsgroups, Usenet:
      If a particular whale species isn't endangered, then there's not a blind bit of difference between butchering them or cattle.
      Whale burgers. Cattle difference!

Usage notes[edit]

For the animals themselves, "cattle" is normally only used in the plural.

  • A: How many cattle do you have ? B: I have fifteen cattle.

There is no universally accepted singular generic word for "cattle", although the term cattlebeast is used in some regions, and there is the archaic neat. When a precise formal term is required, constructions such as "domestic bovine" or "domestic bovine animal" can be used. For many people, only sex-specific words such as "bull" and "cow" are used for adults, "calf" for the young, etc., though especially children will use "cow" for all three (as in cowboy).

  • There are five cows and a calf in that herd of cattle.

Where the sex is unknown, "cow" is sometimes used (although properly a cow is only an adult female).

  • Is that a cow in the road?

The phrase "head of cattle" may be used without regard for sex. Chiefly in Indian English, this has also given rise to the compound cattlehead.

  • One head of cattle
  • He sold 50 head of cattle last year.

Occasionally "cattle" may be found in singular use:

  • First I saw the mandible, which looked a bit like a strange-shaped cattle; then I saw the cervical vertebrae, which looked like a horse ("Intact Ottoman 'war camel' found in Austrian cellar", BBC, 2015 April 02)



Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

See also[edit]

Other entries associated with cattle