Language can complicate lunchtime

By Jim Lee

I read or heard somewhere that predators have eyes in the front of their heads while plant-eaters have eyes at the sides of their heads. This makes sense since carnivores have to move forward to see and keep track of their prey, and herbivores hang out in herds with everybody watching what’s going on around them because they don’t like the idea of becoming lunch.
The difference in teeth is also an example of form following function. The hunters have teeth that puncture, rip, and shred. The hunted have teeth that clip and grind.
All that seems very logical. Carnivores have to capture, kill, and quickly gulp their gustatory goodies before a bigger predator steals the meal without paying the tab. It is difficult to catch a meal because prey really is fast food.
On the other paw, herbivores bite off pieces of plant life and chew it to a pulp, taking their time because other plant-munchers are doing the same instead of taking it away from each other. Grass and leaves don’t run away. Nobody has to catch anything, so there’s no reason to swallow at the speed of Porsche pistons to prevent theft.
Also, carnivores are smart because they have to be smart to be effective hunters. Herbivores are stupid because it takes little intelligence to graze and help their buddies watch for predators.
But this is the point where my confusion begins. Not everything fits into this neat predator/prey profile, even if we narrow everything down to land mammals.
Some critters simply do not match the mold.
Elephants are intelligent herbivores. With few exceptions, primates are herbivores, yet they have eyes in the front and pointy teeth. A baboon has fangs about the same size as a leopard’s, and the berry-munching gorilla has some pretty scary teeth, too.
And humans have teeth like an herbivore but eyes like a carnivore. No wonder other animals think we’re weird.
If anybody sees where this is leading, please send me an e-mail and let me in on it because I’d really like to know what I’m doing.
I think I brought up contradictory zoological nomenclature to set up my complaint about nutritional euphemisms. I wish I had put that another way because now I’m even more confused. I have never understood why fish, chicken, and turkey do not change names when they become food while the names change with swine, cattle, sheep, and various organs we devour.
Why not call it what it is? Why confuse me with terms like pork, beef, mutton, tripe, veal, and head cheese? Are the alternate names supposed to make things more appetizing? If so, who thinks “head cheese” sounds yummy-good?
These are all words with meanings of their own. Pork comes from the Latin word (porcus) for pig. Beef may come from a French word (boef), but it’s an English word for full-grown cattle bred and fattened for meat. Mutton comes from the Latin word (multo) for sheep or Old French (moton) for ram. Tripe comes from Italian (trippa) for the lining of the intestines. Veal comes from the Latin word (vitellus) or Old French (veel) for little calf.
Head cheese? Well, I suppose we are all brainy enough figure that one out for ourselves.
Apparently, we solved the food euphemism puzzlement. Unfortunately, it does nothing to explain the carnivore/herbivore misfits. One silly question at a time, I suppose. After all, if I weren’t confused about something, we wouldn’t have a column in this spot.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: