Cows: Another study in comparative linguistic biology

Since I’ve already done a similar “expose” on how humans are not at all like the whales to which the larger of us are sometimes negatively compared I have been wanting to also do a similar post regarding cows; another of those maligned animals.

In everyday language you will often, or perhaps only sometimes if you’re so lucky, hear or perhaps even use these phrases: “I feel like such a cow!” “Gah!  Look at that heifer!”  These phrases are, to my experience, used exclusively for women and amongst women.  A passing male stranger might shout the phrase to a woman he doesn’t know on the street but feels needs to know how utterly he is offended but the sight of a human being that doesn’t fit his narrow views of female delight.  They will also be heard bandied about by women engaging in that ages-old smack-talk cycle in which each tries to out-shame herself in front of the others; becoming the victor of the vicious verbal battle only when she has denigrated her body and self-worth to the highest (or is it lowest) level of the group.

We use the poor cow as a reference for, I think, a few of reasons:

  1. Cows are large mammals, having immense weights
  2. Cows chew their cud, a process which leaves them looking like they are ALWAYS EATING; something that to this day is still assumed about any person who is identified or self-identifies as fat: They must be ALWAYS EATING to have become they size they are
  3. Cows are domesticated, meaning they are controlled and penned in, making them seem sedentary; another quality pegged as the “cause” of fat.

Cattle, colloquially referred to as cows, are domesticated ungulates, a member of the subfamily Bovinae of the family Bovidae. Cattle did not originate as a name for bovine animals. It derives from the Latin caput, head, and originally meant movable property, especially livestock of any kind. The word is closely related to “chattel” (a unit of personal property) and “capital” in the economic sense. They are raised as livestock for meat (called beef and veal), dairy products (milk), leather and as draft animals (pulling carts, plows and the like). In some countries, such as India, they are honored in religious ceremonies and revered. From Wikipedia

Well, certainly in the US cows are not revered in any holy way, otherwise they would not be used as a term of slander.  So let’s concentrate on what cows actually DO and ARE and see if we can find any similarities in humans.




They are warm blooded mammals Yes Yes
They breathe air Yes Yes
They bear live young after a 9 month gestation period and nurse them with milk Yes Yes
Eating habits are the same for individuals within the same species · Per day, a cow spends 6 hours eating and 8 hours chewing cud.

· The average cow drinks about 30 gallons of water and eats about 95 pounds of feed per day.

Source: A Field Guide to Cows , by John Pukite, Falcon Press, Helena, Montana, 1996.

Yes. Study after study shows that humans eat the same average amount; regardless of size
Are active in their daily lives, regardless of size Yes. Along with walking around most of the day, cow stands up and lies down about 14 times a day. Cows can run. The fastest cow time was in 2003. Little Witch ran the track in 7 minutes, 31.54 seconds. Yes. Physical activity energy expenditure has not declined since the 1980s and matches energy expenditures of wild mammals.
Are vilified for their size; the largest of their particular species compared to vastly larger species in an attempt to further degrade particular individuals No.

· Largest of their kind are praised/displayed as impressive: The world record for the heaviest bull was 1,740kg (3836lb).

· The heaviest steer was eight year old ‘Old Ben’, a Shorthorn/Hereford cross weighing in at 2,140kg (4,720 lbs) in 1910.

Sadly: Yes Yes Yes

Humans might make it into a book of world records for size but there is no pride shown, no respect given, only shaking heads, pity and scorn.

Lifespan Cattle usually live to about 15 years (occasionally as much as 25 years). The life expectancy (both sexes, at birth) of the world is 65.82 years (63.89 years for males and 67.84 years for females)

Okay so let’s see.  Aside from the fact that speedy humans can run far faster than an 8 minute mile and humans live FAR longer; maybe humans ARE like cows.  And while I take most of the following text from my post regarding whales, I feel is applies very well here.

We are all eating, living, air-breathing creatures who like to be active.  I guess the only real distinction between us, aside from the obvious looks (and correspondingly different species classifications), would be in how vilified larger humans are in comparison to larger bovines.  No one who goes to a cattle ranch will see the largest one out there and sneer at it; calling it dirty names for its size. Rather, you will be impressed by the sense of collective herd community, drawn in to the deep brown intelligence filling one individual’s eyes, intrigued by the entire concept of domesticated animals, perhaps positively or negatively, maybe even neutrally.

While it has been shown above that cows and humans do share many positive and neutral characteristics; these qualities are certainly not what comes to mind when that hateful bovine comparisons are tossed, grenade-style, to explode upon some unsuspecting fat human. No.  The only quality isolated is size. The person yelling out “Fat Cow” is not making a true analogy; they are looking to inflict verbal damage upon someone for the sake of inflating their own ego; choosing size-slurs as their weapons of choice.  These sorts of people aren’t falsely concerned with our health.  They aren’t worried about “the children”.  They quite simple and plainly are looking to mentally abuse another person so as to boost their own self-worth and have chosen the fatties as the targets.

Well I call your bluff on the case of cows as I did for whales.  No human can possibly get to the size of a cow.  No human EATS as much as a cow or as often as a cow; we all eat like humans.  It is a nonsensical comparison; just like many of the arguments against fat.

And quite frankly; if these large cows are able to live full, healthy, amazing lives at their IMMENSE sizes; why does it boggle the mind of some folks that humans on the larger end of the size spectrum within our OWN species are  able to do the same?  Our size is NOT indicative of either our health or our individual worth as human beings.  In the words of one of my favorite wise-men, “Size matters not.  Look at me.  Judge me by my size do you? Hmm?  Hmm.  And well you should not.”  Indeed.  Well you should not.




4 thoughts on “Cows: Another study in comparative linguistic biology

  1. I always thought the cow analogy was flawed. All the cows I’ve seen were pretty slender, in the sense that you can often see their hip bones jutting out (this is just how their bodies are shaped) and often their ribs as well, and they don’t look unhealthy.

    Also, cows are beautiful. So, if someone calls me a cow, they’re comparing me to a beautiful, thin animal. This makes no sense. I may be beautiful, but I’m not thin.

    Of course, these are the same people who thought I would sink like a stone in water. Ha! Laws of physics, people, laws of physics.

  2. I once assumed cows were slow, dumb animals. I thought they stupidly chewed and watched the world in a state of constant wonder interupted only by startling and running.

    Then, my father started bying cattle. Beef cattle. One day, we went out into the pasture on a small four-wheeler that was an open-air vehicle. It topped out at about 15 miles per hour.

    The cattle, about 50 heifers and a bull, heard the motor they assciate with my father and delicious packs of range cubes. Suddenly, the herd sprang into action, chasing after us in hopes of getting a trough full of cubes.

    I was astounded. They were nimble, graceful and very, very fast. As they raced after us, the sleek, shiny bodies of the heifers spilled this way and that, finding newer open spaces ever closer to our little four wheeler. Black hide, red hide and white hide twisted and kicked. Their heads were grand and formidable.They were alert. They accounted for every human in the four wheeler. They knew my father by sight – just by seeing the back of his head at the wheel.

    I have a new respect for cattle. They are as athletic as any wild animal, moving according to their own strength and their own limits.

    I’ll never think of them as great, chewing oafs ever again.

  3. Pingback: When Do People Make Fat Hating Comments? « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape.

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