4

In Grapes of Wrath (1937) John Steinbeck uses the term sidemeat, sometimes hyphenated side-meat.

The OED confirms this is North American (I have never heard it used in Britain), and refers to salt pork or bacon, cut from the side of the pig. (Americans I discovered years ago don't eat back bacon.)

However one dictionary I looked in, specifically quoted Grapes of Wrath, suggesting that the term was unique to Steinbeck. The OED does give five references dating from 1868 to 1975. But clearly this is not a widely used term. Presumably Steinbeck mentions it to emphasise that his paupers were reduced to seeking out the cheapest cuts of meat. However the character 'Ma' (her name is never mentioned) talks about sidemeat. And if that sort of person would not normally have used the word in the 1930s, then presumably it would have sounded out of place in the text.

But I would be interested to know whether the word sidemeat is still used today, and whether there is, or has historically been, a particular stigma associated with purchase of sidemeat being indicative of poverty.

I would also be interested to know if Americans use the word offal, and how the eating of it links to an image of the poor.

11
  • 4
    My Irish farmer relatives in DeKalb County, IL used the term side-meat to mean bacon; a typical farm breakfast often involved side meat and (cornmeal) mush, both fried. They were two generations older than me and I was born in 1942. It can be safely referred to as a rural N. American term from the Northern or Midlands regions (DeKalb Co. lies spang on the isogloss bundle between the two regions). Jan 24, 2015 at 0:57
  • books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Barmar
    Jan 24, 2015 at 1:45
  • I've never heard this word before. I've heard of offal, but mostly as an archaic food.
    – Barmar
    Jan 24, 2015 at 1:46
  • In many developing countries, folks still wash and eat the offal: stomachs, small and large intestines, kidneys, etc of animals. In US that practice is long gone, along with the word. For awhile the intestines were used to form link sausage, but now that stuff is just ground up and put in hot dogs--still a low-end food.
    – Good A.M.
    Jan 24, 2015 at 1:59
  • 1
    I heard "side meat" when I was growing up in NW Ohio. (I was born the same year as Lawler.) I never heard "offal" -- that's a learned term, for me.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 24, 2015 at 2:46

1 Answer 1

2

In a comment John Lawler wrote:

My Irish farmer relatives in DeKalb County, IL used the term side-meat to mean bacon; a typical farm breakfast often involved side meat and (cornmeal) mush, both fried. They were two generations older than me and I was born in 1942. It can be safely referred to as a rural N. American term from the Northern or Midlands regions (DeKalb Co. lies spang on the isogloss bundle between the two regions).

Indeed, the term can be found in newspapers in the early to mid twentieth century, as a search of Chronicling America illustrates.

Here is a reference to sidemeat as bacon (The oasis. [volume] (Arizola, Ariz.), 20 Aug. 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.).

Bacon! Thy name was once as low
As was thy price;
We would not in the long ago,
Think of thee twice.
Thou wert not meet to grace the board
Where pomp and pride meet --
In the dark smokehouse wert thou stored
As common sidemeat.

To show geographic range, the term also appears in a newspaper in Kentucky (The Mt. Sterling advocate. (Mt. Sterling, Ky.), 05 Nov. 1913. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.):

Late garden truck is about all gone, and hog killing time is drawing near, but few hogs are to be found for sale and there will be a big scarcity of meat in that line this winter and prices will be very high on sausage, hams and sidemeat

As well as Idaho (The silver messenger. (Challis, Idaho), 18 July 1899. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.):

Singing ballads, playing cards, Eating sidemeat, and running guards

And Washington DC in the 1950s (Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 16 Aug. 1959. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.):

For all practical purposes, Mr. Butler has told the South to go fry its sidemeat. He wants the Democrats, as a party, to stand up and be counted in favor of racial integration in the schools and other public places.

And in the 1950s in Maryland, an advertiser could post about "pork side meat" (The Republican. [volume] (Oakland, Md.), 11 Oct. 1956. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.):

enter image description here

So, at the very least, this was a term for a certain kind of meat that was once used across the US, maybe more frequently in rural areas but appearing from the west to the east coast.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.