I know which words to use for specific types of chicken:

  • gallīna is a female (adult) chicken (hen).
  • gallus is a male (adult) chicken (cock, rooster); it also is used for the male (cock) of other birds. (cāpō is a castrated male chicken (a capon)).
  • pullus is a young chicken; it is also used for the young of other animals (e.g. horses).

What I don't know is whether any of these can be used to refer to "chicken" in general (or in the case of "pullus", I'm uncertain about how classical that usage would be).

Another relevant word is gallīnāceus, an adjective "chicken" that is also used substantively: I'm not sure exactly how to use it correctly, or even what exactly it means in all cases.

As examples of when I might feel the want of a word for "chicken", how would you say the following in Latin?

  • "A hen is a female chicken" = "gallīna est fēmina gallīnācea"? (The L&S entry for gallīnāceus cites an example of "gallinacei mares").

  • "There are three chickens: two hens and a rooster" = "Sunt trēs gallīnāceī: duae gallīnae et ūnus gallus"?

  • "Foxes eat chickens" = "Vulpēs gallīnae edunt"?

What does "gallus gallīnāceus" mean exactly, and why is it used instead of just "gallus" by itself?

One thing that stood out to me when looking through examples of gallus in classical texts is the frequency of the expression "gallus gallinaceus", which struck me when I first encountered it as having an air of redundancy. I found it translated in some English texts as "poultry-cock", but I'm honestly not entirely sure of the exact meaning of this in English either: is it just a complete synonym of "rooster" (male chicken), with the adjective included purely to clarify the species of cock that we are dealing with? Does it indicate some particular intended purpose for the bird? Example:

Petronius, Satyrica 49.2.2, 49.3.1 mirari nos celeritatem coepimus et iurare, ne gallum quidem gallinaceum tam cito percoqui potuisse, tanto quidem magis, quod longe maior nobis porcus videbatur esse quam paulo ante apparuerat.

Translated as:

We began to express astonishment at such speed, and took our oath that not even a fowl could have been properly cooked in the time, especially as the pig seemed to us to be much bigger than the boar had been a little while earlier.

(Petronius, Satyricon, Michael Heseltine, Ed—Perseus)

Can "pullus" = "chicken" as a type of meat?

My question is inspired by Expedito Bipes's question "How do you say, "Boy, you got a good scald on that chicken," in Latin?", which brought up the topic of how to say "chicken" when talking about meat. One factor that seems to me to complicate the picture is differences in meat production between the ancient world and the modern industrialized world. I believe hen flesh was the most common kind of chicken meat eaten in Ancient Rome, but modern chicken meat comes from young chickens of either sex. So even if gallīna turns out to be the most commonly used word in reference to meat in Classical times, I think this does not necessarily indicate that it would be an appropriate word to use for chicken meat that does not come from hens.

My answer there concluded that "pullus" would be an appropriate choice for "chicken" as meat, but I'm not entirely sure this is accurate (unless you include a clarifying adjective like "pullus gallīnāceus", which seems awkward to me, but maybe this is actually the most idiomatic choice?). Is there reason to think pullus by itself is too ambiguous?

Pullus or a derivative of it eventually developed in various Romance languages into a word used for chicken meat (e.g. Spanish pollo means "chicken meat" as well as "(young) chicken"), but I'm not sure how early this development was, and whether it can be considered to have started in (Late?) Latin.

I have seen some Middle English glosses of "pullus" as "chicken" (in Middle English spelling) but this doesn't clarify the issue to me since the Oxford English Dictionary says of English chicken "in early use spec.: a young individual of this bird".

Example glosses:

gallus, gallina, pullus, capo
kocke henne chekynge capone

(A Volume of Vocabularies)

hic gallus, a coke. hec gallina, a henne. hic capo, a capon. hic pullus, a chekyn.

(A Volume of Vocabularies)

Pullus is also given separately as the gloss for (the Middle English spelling of) "foal".

  • 1
    Not enough for a full answer just yet, but for what it's worth, Apicius has gallina for "hen" and pullus for "chicken." See my earlier answer for more on that. I think your earlier answer on the other question is fine.
    – cmw
    Jan 6 at 18:35


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