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Cattle
What is the singular version of "cattle"?
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2013/10/30
4:43pm
mbaretich
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Cow? No, that’s for female cattle. Neat? Archaic! Head of cattle? Too many words.

2013/10/30
6:53pm
New River, AZ, USA
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I’ve never heard anything used other than “cow” (which is technically incorrect, I know) and I grew up in Wisconsin with cows next door. So should you go with what is actually in use, or what is technically correct? In the latter case, I don’t think there is a singular form of “cattle” but “head of cattle” comes close. Check out this blog for an interesting take on your question:

http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/whats-the-singular-form-of-cattle/

 

2013/10/30
8:22pm
Dick
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Thanks for the link, Heimhenge.   It made me decide that, for myself, I’ll use bovine. (I’ll probably forget in the heat of the moment.)

2013/10/31
12:39am
Ron Draney
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There’s also kine, but that’s apparently a collective term.

On another forum some years ago, someone suggested cattlebeast. In fact, they suggested that they’d actually heard someone use it and asked if it was a valid term. At that time, I offered beef.

2013/10/31
1:44am
deaconB
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Cow doesn’t just mean female, but a female that has given birth.   A younger, less-experienced female is a heifer.

 

Cattlemen who are not dairymen, refer to an individual a a beef, a group as beeves. Dairymen refer to a herd of cattle as cows, but they generally are females that have come fresh.   Males in the dairy breeds rarely see a birthday.

The word “cow” doesn’t necessarily mean bovine; it also is applied to bison, whales, and, I presume, other species.

2013/11/05
11:47pm
Ferd
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Cattle can only be used in the plural and not in the singular: it is a plurale tantum. Thus one may refer to “three cattle” or “some cattle”, but not “one cattle”. No universally used singular form in modern English of “cattle” exists, other than the sex- and age-specific terms such as cow, bull, steer and heifer.

2015/02/18
2:10am
Ron Draney
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If you ever get this one resolved, try to figure out the singular of Legos.

My (online) British friends insist that the singular is piece of Legos. Most of the Americans in the same group prefer Lego.

(Strangest irregular singular I ever came across was on a spoof of those “Teen Beat” type magazines, about new wave bands in the ’80s. One of the cover headlines was Who’s your favorite Flock of Seagull?)

2015/02/18
9:57am
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Cattle can only be used in the plural and not in the singular: it is a plurale tantum.[25] Thus one may refer to “three cattle” or “some cattle”, but not “one cattle”. No universally used singular form in modern English of “cattle” exists, other than the sex- and age-specific terms such as cow, bull, steer and heifer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle#Singular_terminology_issue

2015/02/18
11:05am
deaconB
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Ferd said
Cattle can only be used in the plural and not in the singular: it is a plurale tantum. Thus one may refer to “three cattle” or “some cattle”, but not “one cattle”. No universally used singular form in modern English of “cattle” exists, other than the sex- and age-specific terms such as cow, bull, steer and heifer.

Is there any universally used word for anything in modern English? 

As singular terms for cattle, neither a Brown Swiss nor a Black Angus is sex- or age-specific, nor if you want to remain as species-nonspecific as cattle, is a bovine.

Elohim is a problem child for biblical scholars, because it is a plurale tantum.  Biblical translators have often chosen not to translate it into English for reasons of job security, or even health.  Their clients are monotheists, ignoring the First Commandment which refers to your god and other gods, rather than to false gods.  Indeed, if there were only one god, why should Jehovah be jealous?  My late first wife argued that one should never discuss tax refunds in the house or in the car, lest the housing God decide a new water heater was desirable, or the automotive god demand a new clutch. (No proselytization intended.)

2015/02/18
11:21am
deaconB
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Ron Draney said
If you ever get this one resolved, try to figure out the singular of Legos.

According to LEGO.com, it’s LEGO.  Or LEGO element. However, walking across the floor in bare feet at 3 AM with the lights off, will instantly inspire a plethora of words for an individual LEGO, none of which violate the LEGO Group trademark rights.

One may also question the genetic makeup of the child who left it there.  I like to quote the pregnant woman who, patting her belly, said. “My husband cheats on me so much, I have no idea if this baby is his or not,”

2015/02/18
2:02pm
Glenn
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Peano said

Cattle can only be used in the plural and not in the singular: it is a plurale tantum.[25]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle#Singular_terminology_issue

I have an unresolved nagging quibble about the Wikipedia article’s declaration that cattle is a plurale tantum, even though it is often cited as an example of one.

It is true that it is a plural noun that has no singular. Still, I think it is an essential element of pluralia tantum that the noun has a plural form (e.g. pants, scissors, clothes, suds, whereabouts, shenanigans monkeyshines and hijinks). I don’t consider cattle as having a plural form despite its being a plural noun. This is likely because of its etymology from the word for property, a singular collective noun (singular form, singular construction, plural meaning).

There are also words in English that are plural in form, but singular in construction and meaning. These are not pluralia tantum. Physics is a requirement at this school.

I could go on. It is a tangle. At best its lack of obvious plural form makes cattle a flawed example of a plurale tantum for me.

2015/02/18
2:29pm
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I write for a living, and I’ve long since become comfortable with the fact that language is less than perfectly precise and consistent. 

2015/02/19
2:34am
RobertB
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Glenn said Still, I think it is an essential element of pluralia tantum that the noun has a plural form (e.g. pants, scissors, clothes, suds, whereabouts, shenanigans monkeyshines and hijinks). 

I can see your reservation regarding Cattle.   What sets   Cattle  apart  from  Scissors, Pants …  is that it is not 1 of 2 distinct forms of the same word.

On the other hand ,  one might argue that Cattle is an even more true plurale tantum  than those other words, for  that  its singular counter part doesn’t  even exist.  

2015/02/19
6:11am
deaconB
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As one who is easily amused, I find this definition in Collins (UK) dictionary amusing:

milch

1.
(modifier) (esp of cattle) yielding milk
 
Most dairymen in the US would say they have (for example) 20 cows and 1 bull, for a total of 21 cattle.  Do bulls give milk in the UK, or do they consider cows to be an illiteracy?
 
Has milch cow been mostly replaced everywhere by milk cow, or are there pockets of resistance where milch cow is the more common term?
2015/02/19
8:47am
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deaconB said

Has milch cow been mostly replaced everywhere by milk cow, or are there pockets of resistance where milch cow is the more common term?

I grew up on a dairy farm until about age 10 and my wife was on one until our marriage where we had milk cows. I did not know the term milch until I studied German at university.

2015/02/19
10:27am
Glenn
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I would find the phrase milk cow a familiar one and, like Emmett, never knew of the existence of milch as a word of the English language. To add to the confusion, several dictionaries provide an alternate pronunciation of milch to be identical to milk:
Webster
Oxford

Since I can’t specifically recall seeing milk cow in writing, maybe all along I was hearing a speaker say milch cow and mistaking it for milk cow.

2015/02/19
10:38am
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Google Ngrams have an interesting result; milch cow has the lead (often commanding) until about 1947. Milk cow leads (not ever as commanding) after about 1972.

BTW, this editor flags “milch” as a misspelled word.

2015/02/19
4:37pm
deaconB
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Glenn said
Since I can’t specifically recall seeing milk cow in writing, maybe all along I was hearing a speaker say milch cow and mistaking it for milk cow.

I think I first became aware of the word milch in my forties, and I’m not mistaken, it was Ed Faulkner in Ploughman;s Folly (which became Plowman’s Folly in later printings.  And I had been regularly reading through the Farm Journal, the Ohio Farmer, and erratically through Hoard’s Dairyman.  Even the USDA Ag Yearbook didn;t use milch cow.  The first 10-15 years of Mother Earth News, I inhaled every word of every article, and I had picked up at auction about 10 years of Rodale’s Organic Farming and Gardening.  For a while, I thought milch was a britishism, but I no longer think so (admittedly lacking evidence either way.)

In the 1950s, we were taught that when sex was indeterminant, we were to use male pronouns.  About 1970, women started claiming they were entitled to chairman instead of chairwoman, etc, leading to today’s situation that an actor may be either male or female, but only a female can be an actress.  Annoying, but if that were my only problem, I would be blessed.

(N.B. Martha claims she is pan-pandaphilic.  I’m not sure if she loves a third of a distress call, or an ancient Hindu kingdom of a Frebch armored car or if it’s about red pandae in addition to the giant ones.)

2015/02/20
7:21am
Glenn
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I find loads and loads of examples of milch cow in google books from various places in the USA from the mid-1800s forward:
milch cow in Google books

Among the hits is this delightful example of wordplay in an excerpt from a Ring Lardner skit Cora, or Fun at a Spa subtitled AN EXPRESSIONIST DRAMA OF LOVE AND DEATH AND SEX – IN THREE ACTS. Act III begins:

A Mixed Grill at a Spa. Two Milch Cows sit at a table in one corner, playing draughts. In another corner is seated a gigantic zebu.

FIRST MILCH COW: Don’t you feel a draught?
SECOND MILCH COW: No. But we’d better be going. That gigantic zebu is trying to make us.
FIRST MILCH COW: He thinks he is a cow catcher.
SECOND MILCH COW: (As they rise) They say there are still a great many buffaloes in Yellowstone Park.
FIRST MILCH COW: So I herd.
(The Milch Cows go out, followed at a distance by the Zebu. … )

I also understand that the phrase came to be used figuratively in the sense in which I would say cash cow.

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