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Maybe it's the season of Halloween, because it's kind of a grim question, but I have seriously wondered from a language point of view - is there a word for human as 'food-meat', or has there ever been, in English or related historical languages?

Obviously there is sanctity of life in civilization in general, and there is a taboo on cannibalism in western history, I know. And of course that taboo alone may explain what seems to be a sort of language gap.

But sometimes taboo doesn't mean there isn't a term for something, it just means a term may be hidden or buried (I'm sorry I can't think of examples off the top of my head but I remember learning about that for my English degree).

In addition, there is the shift between Saxon and Norman English when we ended up with a split for 'living animal' (cow, sheep, deer) and 'dead food-meat animal' (beef, mutton, venison).

But that does serve as a handy dividing line - on this side are the words for live creature, and on that side are the words for food.

If you line up 'cow, sheep, deer, pig' on one side of that line, you have 'food' words to put on the other. For 'human' or 'person' however, you don't.

Again, I know there are historical reasons, but I'm not wondering about the taboo, I'm wondering if there ever has been a word for this?

There is the word 'flesh' and it kind of implies 'non-specific meat.' As in 'deer flesh' or 'cow flesh.' Although it has quasi-religious connotations as in 'flesh of my flesh' and 'take of my flesh and eat it.'

Maybe 'flesh' alone is the word, considering the religious usage in the symbolism of communion?

But is there something more specific for those unsettling times when humans may have had nothing else to eat but other humans for survival - à la the Donner party. This has happened throughout time so is there a hidden word in English or historical languages related to English for human as food meat?

Again, I'm not trying to be grim or unsettling. I've seriously wondered about this for several years.

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    You seem to suggest there is or ought to be a one-to-one correlation between types of food-animal and types of meat, but there isn't one. We have squab for various pigeons and doves, for instance, yet no special term for chicken or pheasant. Venison was originally for any game animal, and still applies not only to deer but to elk and reindeer and moose. Beef is for bulls as well as cows, but also used as horse beef and carabeef, yet veal is different. And different regions understand mutton, chevon, hogget, and lamb differently. – choster Oct 14 '15 at 23:53
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    There's no word for it in English because it's not something we do. In other languages used by cannibals there probably is a word. It's like saying there is a word for someone who eats meat (carnivore) but what do you call someone who eats trees? A lumbervore? – michael_timofeev Oct 14 '15 at 23:53
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    In the first chapter of Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe, the argument is made that our English terms for meats tend to comee from the Norman French and the names for the corresponding animals from Anglo-Saxon, because in post-conquest England the Normans got the conquerors' share of the meat while the chores of husbandry fell to the conquered. – Brian Donovan Oct 15 '15 at 1:01
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    Most animals don't have a separate word for their flesh. It's really only a handful that do: the ones which we commonly eat. Think of some animals - Cat, Dog, Lion, Elephant, etc. A tiny minority have that extra word, which evolved, as all words do, from the need to distinguish between things and to aid clarity. If nobody's saying "No, i didn't mean a live human, i mean cooked human flesh", then a word won't evolve because there's no need for it. – Max Williams Oct 19 '15 at 15:44
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There be some as call it long pig.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 5 '17 at 1:13
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No, there is no equivalent, but if there were...

It would probably be something like ouvrier.

The reason English has different words for the animal and the food is that the word for the food comes from French - the language of the ruling class.

From the link:

  • mutton = mouton (sheep)
  • beef = boeuf (cow)
  • veal = veau (calf)
  • pork = porc (pig)

So it stands to reason that the word for "person-flesh" would be derived from a French word for person. Now, there are lots of word for person, man or human in French, but most are near homonyms - and a French noble asking his English servant for "personne" may draw disdain.

But asking for a slice of braised ouvrier - or in the English laborer - may be a little more tasteful.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 5 '17 at 1:13
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Although there have been euphemisms for human meat, you seem to be wondering specifically about why human meat in particular doesn't have a well-known "dead meat food name" like other meats.

It would just be "human".

The reason is that "food" words are the rare exception, not the rule, due to an historical accident. I mean "rare" here in the sense that, of the many meats in the world eaten by English-speaking humans, exceedingly few of them have names in English that are "food" words.

The only words for meat in English that differ from the name of the animal are those few items that crossed the tables of the Norman lords after William's invasion of England in the 11th century. Because they spoke French, the normal French words for those animals were adopted as fancy names for their meat in English, by those English who aspired to reach high society by aping their Norman masters.

This process only happened for those few meats favoured at lordly tables though. It didn't get applied to foods on peasant tables, or on no-one's tables. It is therefore not a general rule in English that a meat has a special name distinct from the name of the animal; the few you note are actually the rare exceptions to the actual rule: that in general, meat is called after the animal. We call chicken meat chicken, fish meat fish, clam meat clam, turkey meat turkey, bison meat bison, horse meat horse, dog meat dog, squirrel meat squirrel, alligator meat alligator, etc.

Because human meat, like dog and cat and rat meat, would not have appeared on Norman tables, it never received a "food" name derived from badly-pronounced Norman French. (Even if human meat had appeared on Norman tables, it is unlikely that their English vassals and subjects would have attempted to copy them for the little bit of reflected prestige—more likely there would have been bloody revolution, and English today would have far fewer words borrowed from French.)

Of course, there are euphemisms for human meat—long pig, long pork, "the other other white meat"—but those exist to hide the meat's origin and aren't "food" words in the sense that beef is the non-euphemistic "food" word for cow meat.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Feb 5 '17 at 1:13
18

Brawn is historically used for all animals but I couldn't find a source that it is actually used for human flesh as food source. Although, the contemporary definition covers the fleshy parts and muscles of a human.

The obsolete definition of brawn from OED:

The muscle or flesh of animals as food.

The contemporary definition of brawn from OED:

Fleshy part, muscle; esp. the rounded muscles of the arm, leg and thumb.


As a single word, you might consider bakolo as a loan word as it usually appears in anthropological contexts. It is a term from Fijian language used by cannibal tribes.

From the Men from Under the Sky: The Arrival of Westerners in Fiji By Stanley Brow (2013):

enter image description here

From The Anthropology of War By Jonathan Haas (1990):

enter image description here

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    Bakolo is such an amazing answer, it's exactly what (and wherefrom) I would have expected. Not upvoting because "brawn". – Pranab Oct 20 '15 at 5:56
  • @Pranab: Thanks for the comment. I didn't give brawn as the right answer but it is closely related and there is an explanation there. OP asked about historical words as well. I didn't want to give bakolo alone because people might have thought that I'm giving a non-English answer. – ermanen Nov 6 '15 at 19:06
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I've seen some references to it as "manflesh"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BpcArRYTpE

Interesting, the word does appear to exist (as translated word) in Tibetan

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(I don't have enough reputation to reply to JNF so here is my "answer")

The words mouton, veau et bœuf don't refer more to food in opposition to the animals : they simply refer to both of them. However, "porc" refers to food more often that it does to the animal. "Cochon" is more common word for the animal.

To answer Nick T, Irish would translate to Irlandais but I don't see how this helps.

To conclude, since Lego Stormtroopr thinks French language leads to English in this case, we simply say "chair humaine" in French which would translate to "human flesh". I know OP specified it was not what he was looking for but I may lead to another, more helpful answer.

Source : I'm a french native speaker.

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    The point about the French names being associated with the food, is that that is how it has happened in English. The animals have Saxon/Germanic names - pig, cow, sheep, bullock etc, but by the time the meat gets on the table it has acquired a different English name, but one of French etymology - beef, mutton, pork etc. And that is due to the fact that in Norman England, after 1066, the aristocracy were French, whilst the labourers and animal herdsmen were Anglo-Saxon. – WS2 Oct 15 '15 at 12:52
3

Well, you also have "Manbeef."

This term was used back in 2001-2002 for a fantastically elaborate hoax site ostensibly selling well... "Manbeef" of various cuts and pre-processed products as well (i.e. sausages, ground Manbeef, hot dogs, etc.) And while they did use their name quite liberally, the most common term they used was "Human Meat." The extensive use of this label follows the reasoning given by a number of other answers. However, within the several pages of "product literature" a number of other euphemistic and literal terms for human "meat" were used extensively. Unfortunately, the site as recorded by archive .org is completely inoperative. I will check around to see if I can find somewhere or someone that has a cached/archived copy of the site since it does have yet even more terms used for this meaning.

You can find some info about the former site at: http://hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/manbeef.com https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ManBeef.com http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/hoaxes/manbeef.asp

Also, here is a flash "advertisement" they had as well ("Human Meat" used throughout): http://wheretruthlies.com/MeatPlanet/manbeef-ad.swf

UPDATE 2014-10-20: Well, I found a date in archive.org that actually functions. However, this particular iteration of the site only contains the terms "Manbeef" and "Human Meat" from a quick glance over some of the pages. So, either there was some point at which they had changed the copy for the site, or (and entirely within the realm of possibility given that it has been approx. 14-15 years since I've seen this) my memory had failed me and this was the only copy all along.

WARNING! While this site was a hoax, it is NOT for the feint of heart or squeamish! If it freaks you out... well, you were forewarned.

http://web.archive.org/web/20010331042026/http://www.manbeef.com/processing.html

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I think there is not and most probably there never has been any such term in English. Should there have been uses, the terms would have been compounds, as "human flesh" or ... "human meat" (?)

On the latter -- I would not use the word "meat" for human tissue at all. It is not a good idea for a food stuff, not only to regard the natural resentment that nature has bestowed, I believe on most people, about such consumption. The natural feeling has prevented any such "culinary" term from emerging in Europe.

Regular dietary "mistake" can influence the kind adversely, as limiting height and observably, quotient.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjYHy5VaC6U

Uses as "flesh" have not been consumption-related, and have often referred to kindred.

Present day, you probably do not have people talking about the human body in terms as general as "flesh". It is either muscle tissue, or bone tissue, or a nerve fiber. :)

protected by Community Oct 15 '15 at 20:37

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