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Posted by James Briggs on November 21, 2010 at 16:22

In Reply to: Beef posted by David FG on November 21, 2010 at 09:10:

: : I have some beef with you. (meaning we have unresolved issues together) Where did this originate?

: It seems that no one knows. The Online Etymology Dictionary has for its entry 'Beef (v)':

: "to complain," slang, 1888, Amer.Eng., from noun meaning "complaint" (1880s). The noun meaning "argument" is recorded from 1930s. The origin and signification are unclear; perhaps it traces to the common late 19c. complaint of U.S. soldiers about the quantity or quality of beef rations.


I have found only one explanation for this expression and it is another that I find less than convincing; never-the-less, here goes. It allegedly comes from the London criminal underworld, well known to be full of cockney rhyming slang. The traditional shout of "stop thief!" was mocked by being replaced by "hot beef, hot beef" in criminal circles who thought that the shouters of "stop thief" were making an unnecessary fuss. The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines Beef as: "to cry beef; to give the alarm", thereby supporting the above suggested origin.
The phrase was discussed on the Phrases web site in October 2000. An alternative origin goes as follows:
“In order to get herds of beef from their ranges to railroads, cattle were once forced to trot for day after day in all kinds of weather…Residents of railhead cow towns didn’t need to be told when a rancher and his cowpokes were getting close – noise made by the ‘beef’ could be heard for miles. Cattle drives are long gone, but a person who is loud in finding fault is still said to ‘beef’ – or bellow like a tired and thirsty steer.” From “Why You Say It” by Webb Garrison (Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tenn., 1992).