Readers may recall our discussion last year of the plight of the bovine mammal–you know, the one that goes “moo”–for which there is no gender-neutral word. You got your cows (girl bovine mammals), you got your bulls (boy bovine mammals), you got your cattle (plural you-know-whats), but no generic singular term like “horse” or “sheep.” This puts people who are conscientious about their use of the language in the embarrassing position of having to examine the bovine mammal’s sex-related apparatus (admittedly pretty hard to miss) in order to address it properly.

Distressed by this gap in English vocabulary, Arthur Black, host of the Basic Black show on Canada’s CBC radio network, recently teamed up with this column to challenge his listeners to invent a gender-neutral term. They responded big time. Proposed terms included moo unit (“Can be sung to the tune of ‘Moon River,’ writes Catherine Ryle), moo, moovine, cudder camoo (for the existentialist crowd), dumal (Dumbest Ugly Mammal Afoot in the Land, “which might be confusing because it could apply to so many people we know,” writes Michael Nitsch), moocat, Bovis and Beefhead (inevitable, I suppose), cattluno, isobeef, cobul, enivob (bovine spelled backward), boeuf (popular in Quebec), moobovver, land whale (“Will add a degree of romance to an increasingly bland vocabulary. ‘He looked at a field of cattle’ can become ‘He gazed at the herd of land whales roaming majestically through the sea of grass,'” writes James Parker. Thank you, James), steakosaurus, mootle, bovone, medmuffmak (short for “meadow muffin maker”), and thousands–OK, dozens–more.

Some listeners were inspired to create works of literature:

Not having a name, when relating a story,

To wit, bull or cow, is tragic and sorry.

Let’s recycle a word that, it is seeming,

Has no further use, barely a meaning.

I propose that unsexed bovine be a Tory.

(This requires Cecil’s non-Canadian readers to know that the Tories lost huge in the recent elections. But come on, you have to read the footnotes to understand Shakespeare too.)

Many listeners wrote to say that there already was a perfectly good gender-neutral word: cattle beast. Cecil had never heard this term, which sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, but what the hell. Other preexisting words include bovid (strictly speaking, any member of the family Bovidae, which includes sheep, goats, and buffalo as well as cattle, but surely we can work something out), and my personal favorite, bullamacow, a pidgin word apparently in common use in the islands of the southwest Pacific. “Atsa ma bullamacow”–kinda trips off the tongue somehow. But I leave it to common usage to decide.


Remind me never to address a question to you concerning Adolf Hitler. You claimed that Hitler “had been freely elected” in Germany in the 1930s [October 22]. No way, Cecil. Adolf Hitler was never, at any time in his life, elected to public office. He never even stood for an election, anywhere or at any time. Members of his Nazi Party ran for various offices, and having accumulated sufficient power in the Reichstag, appointed their leader chancellor with, eventually, dictatorial powers. –B. Dillon, New York

Excuse me? Hitler ran for president of Germany in the elections of March 13 and April 10, 1932, losing to Hindenburg. On January 30, 1933, Hindenburg, not the Reichstag, appointed Hitler chancellor. I did err in saying Hitler had been elected, but the Nazi-led coalition did achieve a majority in the Reichstag and Hitler placed great stock in achieving power legally in a nominally democratic state. Thus my point that democracy is not necessarily proof against warmongerers.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

Cecil Adams

Cecil Adams is the world’s most intelligent human being. We know this because: (1) he knows everything, and (2) he is never wrong. For more, see The Straight Dope website and FAQ.