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On Language, Idioms, and Where I Draw the Line

Snobbery is rarely acceptable, and hardly ever commendable. While it’s all well and good to know a great deal about anything the elicits your interest, there’s hardly ever a reason to use your command of the knowledge pertaining to said topic other than to share your passion with others and/or to better inform your private opinions. Opinions are, generally, better kept to oneself.

But… for today, the hell with that. You can feel free to stop reading, but I’m going to to go ahead and share an opinion and probably come off as a language snob; I care a great deal about the use of words, and when the language in question defies logic and skews meaning, I feel compelled to call it out. And stomp on its foot. And maybe kick it, too. Here’s the expression at issue: chop meat.

I recently moved to the New York City area after many years living in LA, and before that I lived in Boston and DC. I’ve also travelled around the States a fair amount, and nowhere but in New York have I heard anyone use the expression chop meat. What is chop meat? It’s ground beef, in this regional usage. Yes, ground beef, the stuff you use to make hamburgers, meatballs, meatloaf, taco filling, and so forth.

Here are the reasons why the term chop meat sets my teeth on edge:

  1. The meat in question is not chopped, it is ground. Thus the pleasant precision of the term “ground beef.”
  2. Were the meat in question chopped, it should be referred to as “chopped meat,” not “chop meat.” Chop meat sounds like an imperative, not a noun. As in: “Hey, you! Chop meat! I demand it!”
  3. The meat in question is not just meat, it is specifically beef. So in a slightly less batshit crazy world, at least people would say “chop beef” (“Hey, you! Chop beef! I order you!”) or even “chopped beef.” But that would still be off base because, like we talked about earlier, it’s not chopped, it’s ground.
  4. “Meat chop” is a widely established and accepted term. Here’s the Wikipedia abstract on meat chop:”A meat chop is a cut of meat cut perpendicularly to the spine, and usually containing a rib or riblet part of a vertebra and served as an individual portion.”

    So when someone says “chop meat,” they will likely confuse most people into thinking they mean meat chop, which can be various types of meat and which is certainly not ground or chopped (minced is a better word for that, by the way).

OK, so there you have it. The idiom chop meat has come to be used in a small region of the United States to refer to ground beef, but that doesn’t mean you have to be OK with it. I’m not OK with it because the expression not only makes no sense, but in fact convolutes meaning rather than conveying it. It’s one thing to use a regional term for something like a certain sandwich. Go ahead and call a sub a hoagie or a gyro, that’s fine with me: none of those terms has another meaning in the context of food, so you’re not going to confuse anyone beyond them possibly asking: “What does that mean?”

But when you say chop meat to mean ground beef, you’re going to confuse almost everyone. Let’s make the change now, one hamburger or meatloaf at a time.