Today’s (Aug 28) Washington Post carries the article titled, “Red meat on the menu as convention kicks off” followed by the following sentence.

"GOP delegates are scheduled to take the vote that will formally settle their party's long primary battle, although there were signs of the un-mended rift between Romney's backers and the minority of delegates supporting Rep. Ron Paul."

I think I’ve seen the cases “Red meat” was used in the sense of the substance of political agendas in the past.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘red meat’ as

  1. meat (as beef) that is red when raw
  2. something substantial that can satisfy a basic need or appetite.

However, Cambridge Dictionary defines it only as ‘meat from mammals, especially beef and lamb.’

Oxford Dictionary likewise defines it only as ‘meat that is red when raw, for example beef or lamb. Often contrasted with white meat.’

Wikipedia gives a definition - Red meat in traditional culinary terminology is meat which is red when raw, and not white when cooked. Red meat includes the meat of most adult mammals and some fowl.

In any of Oxford, Cambridge Dictionary, and Wikipedia, there’s no reference of ‘something substantial’ to ‘Red meat’ as defined in definition 2. of Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Is the usage of ‘Red meat’ as ‘the substance (supported by concrete evidence)’ well-received?

Is it predominantly a political jargon? Can I say ‘There was no red meat in his talk (proposal)’ just casually?

  • What's buccalingual? I can find buccolingual after a bit of searching, but that doesn't seem to fit. – Andrew Leach Aug 28 '12 at 22:53
  • Perhaps the user he learned it from meant that something was said "tongue in cheek" (in jest; as a joke). – user21497 Aug 28 '12 at 23:09
  • @BillFranke Indeed. I was the user in question, and it was a word I made up, in the context of Yoichi's question about contrafibularities, to suggest that the question was tongue-in-cheek. Alas, Yoichi was in earnest, so the jest fell even flatter than it deserved. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 28 '12 at 23:27
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    @ StoneyB. It seems I misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘buccolingual.’ If it means ‘tongue in cheek,’ it obviously doesn’t fit to ‘talkative’ person who hasn’t substance in what he’s saying. So I corrected the title of the question. I got a lesson by this exercise – Don’t use the foreign word if you are not familiar with. – Yoichi Oishi Aug 28 '12 at 23:56
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    Yoichi, I learn from your questions, too; more than from many of the answers around here. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 29 '12 at 0:09

You can certainly write “there was no red meat in his talk (proposal)” and be correctly understood to be criticizing the lack of substance.

The term red meat more often has a culinary meaning (edible meat which is red in color before cooking: typically cow, sheep, horse, duck, goose according to Wikipedia) or else functions as a political metaphor. The example you quote falls into the political category. Double-Tongued Dictionary has:

throw red meat v. to appease, satisfy, rally, or excite one’s (political) supporters

This political idiom has a cynical, arrogant air: red meat – a tasty, desirable food – is metaphor for an especially enjoyable tidbit; one throws red meat to one’s animals or to dangerous brutes to reward or appease them. DTD gives examples of usage: “throw red meat to the lions, the wolves, the sharks, etc.”

Google Book Search offers more tasty examples in print:

[T]he Bill goes too far in taking away from the counties various functions in order to give the district councils some red meat to get their teeth into …. (Parliamentary debates, House of Commons official report, 1971)

… Robert Rubin … is not a man even to countenance such discussion except in the strictly political sense of feeding some red meat to Greenberg, Carville, Begala, and the other politicos. (Mother Jones Magazine, Jul–Aug 1995)

Referring to these occasional hard-line policies as attempts to appease domestic audiences, the Echo of Iran observed that Rafsanjani’s “kinder, gentler foreign policy” is not simply “a hoax”. Rather, he and his aides know their preferred policies “rile the radicals” and “feel they must feed some ‘red meat’ to keep them at bay”. (Post-revolutionary Politics in Iran: Religion, Society and Power by David Menashri, 2001)

Barry Popik gives many more examples of the term as it has been used in politics since 1950.

Nevertheless, red meat is sometimes used metaphorically to mean something substantial. The more frequent idiom is plain meat (without the color), but you can locate plenty of examples of the former in printed literature using Google Book Search.


You're confusing two idioms.

Meat is the substantive portion of anything:

Now we get to the meat of the issue.

Red meat is demagoguery intended to rile up your own audience:

Talk of "you didn't build that" was red meat to the convention audience.

Red meat that isn't intended to be recognized by your opponents is a dog whistle. Your opponents will accuse you of using codewords, when really, of course, what you're saying is the truth and you are speaking truth to power.

Almost anyone interested in American politics will recognize these phrases.

  • +1 What's embarassing is that apparently the man who gave this use popular currency was one of the great villains of my youth, Spiro Agnew. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 29 '12 at 0:11
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    @StoneyB -- say what you want about Agnew, the man could turn a phrase. Remember "nattering nabobs of negativism"? "Fat Jap"? "Seen one city slum, you've seen them all"? "I promise I won't deceive you except in matters of this sort"? Maryland had quite a string of governors: this chump, Marvin Mandel, who had to be dragged from the governor's mansion by state troopers, Harry Hughes, a nonentity known universally as "Harry Who", Paris Glendenning, who filed for unemployment because he was forced to quit his job in order to assume the office of governor... "Maryland, Oh Maryland" – Malvolio Aug 29 '12 at 0:32
  • One of the greats. We shall not look upon his like again. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 29 '12 at 0:35
  • What about this, from a 2012 theatre review: "It’s a sharp 85-minutes-or-so, well-crafted and -dialogued, giving talented actors much red meat to chew on, while fortunately ignoring the scenery." That is, substance to act rather than claptrap. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 29 '12 at 1:55

I think you understand this idiom pretty well, and your sample sentence is spot-on.

Red meat means "real food", or as one says in a similar idiom, "something you can get your teeth into". It is Manly food, Heroick, the sort of thing that Hector and Lysander and HEnglishmen eat, unlike the bland and emasculate fodder vegetable fodder consumed by Scots and Eyetalians or the loathsome amphibians prepared with artsy and effeminate fervor by Frenchmen.

And red meat has, too, overtones of primitive rawness—the flesh our savage ancestors hunted at great risk and ripped, still hot and bloody, from the bone.

In the immediate context, red meat contrasts with the tasteless and textureless pabulum (or perhaps, given the location, grits) which dominates the menu at political conventions and such-like media events.

EDIT: I seem to be showing my age. The answers by Malvolio and Bill Franke represent current usage more accurately than mine, which was based on such uses as this, from Eugene O'Neill:

SID: I suppose Dick is deep in "Nick Carter" or "Old Cap Collier."
MILLER: No, he passed that period long ago. Poetry’s his red meat nowadays, I think—love poetry—and socialism . . .


"Is it predominantly a political jargon? Can I say ‘There was no red meat in his talk (proposal)’ just casually?"

There was a famous TV commercial in the USA some years ago that went "Where's the beef?" The beef is the heart of the hamburger; beef is also red meat. It means substance, as the dictionary says. I'd say that using red meat instead of just meat in this instance adds the connotation that the convention will be bloody (metaphorically, not actually) and that the politicians will act as savagely as starving sled dogs thrown chunks of raw meat. It's humorous and perhaps a little tongue in cheek. I find it acceptable and appropriate in this instance. As a rule, however, I'd omit the red unless I wanted to suggest a bloody (verbally, that is) battle. I don't think it works as a casual criticism of a vacuous proposal.

  • Worth noting that, while that commercial was still popular, Walter Mondale successfully parroted the "Where's the beef?" line during a debate, which helped him secure the nomination that year. – J.R. Aug 28 '12 at 23:42
  • Sorry, different metaphor entirely. – T.E.D. Aug 29 '12 at 14:22
  • Explanations and arguments by analogy usually compare two different things because one has to be analogous to the other, not identical. Were the two things identical, the explanations and arguments would be tautologies (circular), like defining squishy as squishable or able to be squished. So there's no need for you to apologize despite your logical fallacy in this instance. – user21497 Aug 29 '12 at 21:31

It doesn't just mean "good stuff", and it is almost the opposite of "substance".

The full metaphor is "throwing red meat to ..." The idea behind this is to depict the audience in question as a pack of hungry dogs or wolves, and the content in question as exactly the stuff they were eagerly gathered there to consume.

If you were to tell someone "your talk had no red meat", you are basically telling the person that it didn't have anything in it that the audience had eagerly come to hear from you in the first place.

Whether that's a compliment or not, I'll leave for you to decide.

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