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The meat of an adult sheep is called mutton.

The meat of an adult goat is called chevon or mutton.

In the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean, and in some parts of Asia, particularly Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, the word “mutton” is often used to describe both goat and sheep meat, despite its more specific meaning (limited to the meat of adult sheep) in the UK, US, Australia and several other English speaking countries.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goat_meat


Questions:

  • Why mutton is used for goat meat in some Asian countries (and Caribbean)? Is this a semantic extension? What is the origin of this usage?
  • Is mutton ever used for goat meat in North America?
  • What word is common for goat meat in North America? For example: "goat meat" or "chevon"? (You can talk about UK, NZ, AU etc. also)

(Though, goat meat itself is not that common in North America comparing to other parts of the world)

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  • Not sure about your other questions, but Jared Diamond mentions in (I think) Guns, Germs, and Steel that sheep and goat were the first domesticated animals. Their shared family and history would, for me at least, answer the "origin of usage" question. With the exception of one episode of Seinfeld, I've never heard someone refer to goat as mutton.
    – emsoff
    May 2, 2014 at 18:49
  • 1
    Among all the food animals that people breed, sheep and goats are pretty similar. So it's not surprising that the same word describes something about both.
    – Mitch
    May 2, 2014 at 21:11
  • They are both from the Caprinae family, a sub-species of Bovidae. [In some places, they try and pass off goat meat for mutton.]
    – Lambie
    Apr 3, 2023 at 19:24
  • There are places where goat meat is more common, and places where sheep meat is. Names vary, locally, for all foods. A collective term for all the caprids is "small cattle"; as you say, among the earliest domestication. Apr 3, 2023 at 19:37

4 Answers 4

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My answer addresses the questions What word is common for goat meat in North America? For example: "goat meat" or "chevon"? More precisely, it focuses on the question How common is the term chevon for goat meat in North America, and when and where did that term arise?

North American familiarity with the term chevon as a synonym for "goat meat" is easy to overstate. I had never heard of the term before reading this question, and the word does not appear in any Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, including the most recent edition—the Eleventh (2003).

Merriam-Webster Online does include an entry for it, as follows:

chevon : the flesh of the goat used as food

but, disappointingly, the online dictionary doesn't provide a first known use date for chevon in English.

A Google Books search for chevon for the years 1700–1927 turned up no references to the word in connection with goat meat (in English-language texts, anyway), though it did fetch several references to chevon as another name for the chub (Cyprinus cephalus, a freshwater fish related to carp), numerous references to the surname CheVon, and a considerable number of typos for chevron. (I observe that EL&U's automatic spelling checker considers chevon a typo, too.)

To solve the mystery of chevon, you must look at the Google Books search matches for 1928: According to the Agronomy Journal, volume 20 (1928), chevon is a portmanteau word invented by "commercial agencies" and promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture [combined snippets]:

How does it come that, "No warrant for dismembering words and using certain of their letters in creating other words exists?" The term "chevon," as a name for goat meat was created by "dismembering" chevre (French for goat) and mouton (French for mutton) and "using certain of the letters." It was devised by commercial agencies and appears in a recent publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Farmers' Bulletin 1203:19, revised 1926). It is by no means the only instance of its kind.

And from Otis W. Barrett, The Tropical Crops (1928), we have this comment [combined snippets]:

Chevon, the new official name of goat meat, is a very satisfactory source of animal protein; it is the cheapest meat available in both tropics. The common prejudice of the upper class against chevon is due largely to the odor of the old males, but when slaughtered before the age of five months there is practically no "taint" whatever, and if desexed (preferably by the simple modern vasocclusion method) the males may be allowed to reach full size.

To judge from this Ngram chart ("from the corpus American English") of "goat meat" (blue line) vs. "chevon" (red line) vs. "cabrito" (green line) vs. "kid meat" (yellow line) for the period 1800–2000, the initial promotional effort on behalf of chevon subsided rather quickly as the Depression progressed, and the meat-eating public didn't embrace the term:

In California (where I pursue a far from gourmet lifestyle), I am familiar with cabrito (meat from a young goat) from Mexican restaurants, but I've never knowingly encountered chevon. As for mutton, I imagine that when I've seen it mentioned on a menu, I've just assumed that the offering was meat from an adult sheep.


Followup (October 7, 2021)

An Elephind newspaper database search for chevon turns up one goat-related instance of chevon from significantly earlier than 1928. From "New Ideas in Cloth Wraps for Early Winter Wear," in the St. Louis [Missouri] Republic (October 12, 1902):

The great new tendency is toward glossy, long-haired silken fabrics. These are called zibelines in the lighter goods, but are peau de chevon or goat skin In the heavier coatings. These glossy fabrics have appliques of plainer cloths, and are superbly suited for the chenille, silken and woolen braid trimmings, which are going to be so much in style.

Other newspapers before and after 1902 refer to a certain fabric or cloth as chevon, although they don't associate it with goat skin.For example, from a full-page advertisement for Hayden Bros, in a section headed "Colored Dress Goods," in the Omaha [Nebraska] Sunday Bee (December 13, 1891):

Ladies' reefer coat in chevon self bound edge $4.98, worth $10.

From "Produce Markets: Quotations from New York, Cincinnati and Elsewhere,"in the [Indianapolis] Indiana State Sentinel (January 27, 1892):

Grocers' lists are unchanged, likewise those of the dry goods men. With the latter a good trade prevailed today and no tills were empty. Merchants have opened a new line of Bedford cords in wool as well as cotton fabrics, also a new line of chevon cloths. Today a new importation of towels, napkins, table damasks and crashes will please the eye of the purchaser.

From an advertisement for King's Palace in the [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star (November 7, 1905):

Our regular $1.25 Chevon-finished German Broadcloth; full 54 inches wide, in the best colorings for fall and winter wear; also fine fast black. We have reduced this material for one day. 93c.

Unfortunately the popularity of chevron designs in clothing of this period, along with numerous instances of typographical errors in contemporaneous newspapers rendering chevron as chevon, leaves the exact meaning of chevon in the context of fabrics and materials in doubt.

On a much more definitive note, a newspaper article from 1922 provides valuable background on the emergence of chevon as a name for goat meat. From "Goat Meat Will Go on Menus Soon as 'Chevon'," in the Washington [D.C.] Times (June 28, 1922):

San Angelo, Texas, June 28.—How about a chevon pot pit? Or would you prefer roast chevon>

"Chevon" is the name adopted to day from a list of 2,500 suggestions for goat meat at the annual convention of the National Sheep and Goat Raisers convention here.

Official recognition of the name will be sought of the United States Department of Agriculture.

"Chevon" it is said, will soon take its place alongside the mutton on the neat market counters of the country.

An untitled item in the Brownwood [Texas] Bulletin (June 28, 1922) credits the name to a woman from Sanderson, Texas:

"Chevon" is the name officially selected by the Sheep and Goat Raisers Association as the entitlement of goat meat when used for eating purposes. It is pronounced "shavon," and was discovered by Mrs. E. W. Hardgrave of Sanderson, Texas. Now here is something new under the sun.

Further background comes from an untitled item in the Carlsbad [New Mexico] Current (July 14, 1922):

The Texas Sheep and Goat Raiser's Association held its annual convention and sale at San Angelo June 27th to 30th inclusive. At this meeting a name for the flesh of the Angora goat, which is delicious when properly prepared, was adopted, and hereafter Angora goat meat will be known as "chevon", just as we know that beef is flesh of the cow and pork the meat of the hog. A concerted effort will be made to bring chevon to the place it deserves on the menus of the country, ignorance and prejudice having done much to keep this really meritorious article of food from taking the place it has long been entitled to hold. The word chevon was suggested by a Mrs. Hardgrave, of Sanderson, Texas, and she received as a prize for her suggestion an Angora buck for which she refused one hundred dollars.

It thus appears that chevon as a term meaning "goat meat" originated at San Angelo, Texas, at the June 1922 annual convention of the National [or perhaps Texas] Sheep and Goat Raisers Association.

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  • This is an excellent answer. Though it would be nice if it included the answer of my first question as well.
    – ermanen
    May 4, 2014 at 19:23
  • 5
    @ermanen This is why you're discouraged from asking multiple questions in a single Question.
    – Azuaron
    Aug 22, 2016 at 20:14
  • Azuaron is right -- otherwise, I'd still be scrolling :-)
    – DjinTonic
    Oct 8, 2021 at 13:14
  • In the UK the meat of goat and kid are not widely enough consumed to affect the language significantly. 'Mutton' is used exclusively of the meat of adult sheep. In the US, goat and kid are not easily available except where there are large enough ethnic enclaves to create sufficient demand, but not enough to affect the language. I found an explanation for he Indian subcontinent, where, apparently there were at one time shops selling "mutton and goat shops", which came to be called "mutton" for short. Because hardly any mutton was being sold, the word 'mutton' got attached to goat meat.
    – Tuffy
    Apr 3, 2023 at 21:30
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The ambiguity of the terms for sheep and goat meat comes from the fact that they are both rarely eaten in the United States. Sheep meat is less rare, but it's usually called "lamb", whether it's actually a lamb or not.

You can find them at ethnic restaurants, however. Irish or English restaurants will usually call Sheep meat "mutton" and goat meat "chevon" or "kid". In Indian restaurants you might see "mutton" on the menu, and in my experience that could mean either sheep or goat.

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  • Your first statement is clearly false (not to mention unsupported). From what I've seen, the ambiguity is GREATER in certain places where both meats are consumed regularly (e.g. India), whereas I had a clear understanding that "mutton" was sheep (and goat is, well, goat). Jun 27, 2017 at 0:47
  • I believe the animal has to be in its first year for its meat to be labeled as lamb in the U.S. I wouldn't want my lamb chops tasting like mutton, which I tried once
    – DjinTonic
    Oct 8, 2021 at 13:38
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I'm a Trinidadian, and in Trinidad everyone just calls goat meat "goat". Sheep meat is called "lamb," and pig meat is called "pork." Chicken meat is "chicken" and cattle meat is "beef."

We never use "mutton" when referring to goat or sheep meat.

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Mutton Etymology "flesh of sheep used as food," late 13c., from Old French moton "mutton; ram, wether, sheep" (12c., Modern French mouton), from Medieval Latin multonem (8c.), probably from Gallo-Roman *multo-s, accusative of Celtic *multo "sheep" (cognates: Old Irish molt "wether," Mid-Breton mout, Welsh mollt); the same word also was borrowed into Italian as montone "a sheep." Transferred slang sense of "food for lust, loose women, prostitutes" (1510s) led to extensive British slang uses down to the present day for woman variously regarded as seeking lovers or as lust objects. Mutton chop is from 1720; as a style of side whiskers, from 1865.

  • Etymology suggests that mutton has been used to refer to adult animals like rams and sheep since medieval times. This use has probably survived centuries in countries where the consumption of these meats has always been consistent.

North America, Chevon . While "goat" is usually the name for the meat found in common parlance, producers and marketers may prefer to use the French-derived word chevon (from chèvre), since market research in the United States suggests that "chevon" is more palatable to consumers than "goat meat".

  • In North America goat meat is called mainly chevon apparently for marketing reasons.

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