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To Have Beef or to Have “A” Beef With Someone?

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Nikki in Northampton, Massachusetts, disagrees with her teenage daughter about the word beef, as in to have a beef, meaning “to have a problem with someone or something.” Nikki uses the word a before the word beef, but her daughter omits that article and simply says to have beef. Traditionally, beef meaning “a complaint” or “a dispute” functioned as a count noun; you can have a beef or have multiple beefs with someone. In the 1970s, however, people started using beef as a mass noun, meaning it requires no article and can’t be counted, as in Has he got any beef with you? So Nikki and her daughter are both right, and the growing popularity of have beef is a great example of language evolving. This is part of a complete episode.

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