To have a beef with somebody/something means:.

  • to think someone or something should be changed.

    • I've got nothing against advertising, but I do have a beef with how many bad ads there are on TV. (Cambridge Dictionary)

Is it more British or US in usage? But mostly, where does this "beef" come from?

  • 3
    Cows. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beef :P
    – Ronan
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 16:05
  • 4
    I couldn't say about British, but Have you a beef with me? is certainly not American. Americans would say Do you have a beef with me?; have meaning 'possess' is not an auxiliary verb and does not invert like one, so it requires Do-Support. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 16:13
  • 1
    Actually, it would be "You got a BEEF WITH ME?!" "Have you a beef with me?" is so very horribly polite, possibly involves tea and a pinky...
    – horatio
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 17:35
  • John Lawler, it's probably American. I'm unfamiliar with it in the UK.
    – Tristan r
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 20:31

2 Answers 2


OED doesn't have much in the way of definite data:

4. A protest, (ground for) complaint, grievance. slang (orig. U.S.). Cf. beef v. 4.

1900 G. Ade Fables in Slang 80 He made a Horrible Beef because he couldn't get Loaf Sugar for his Coffee.

4. intr. To complain, grumble, protest. slang (orig. U.S.).

1888 N.Y. World 13 May (Farmer), He'll beef an' kick like a steer an' let on he won't never wear 'em.

It would appear that cattle were known for being ornery and not afraid to complain about something they didn't like, and the term beef migrated to have that meaning.


Since the term is slang, and pretty modern, it's unlikely that there is anything written about the etymology of "beef".

Based on the limited information out there, it seems to have arisen from gang, street, or rap cultures in the United States. Most commonly it is used as a term for a fight, to start a fight, to have a cause for a fight, etc. As in, "don't start a beef with me because I will win."

There seems to be real roots in the underground rap/hip hop cultures, where rappers or artists would use "beef" to refer to the rap battles that they would have.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that the term arose from the resemblance of your face after a street fight and ground beef, bloody and torn up.

Source: Pure speculation.