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Tastes of Chocolate
09-21-2005, 01:37 PM
You hear the number of cattle that someone has listed as "# head of cattle".

Why head? If I have 100 head of cattle, I could also have 100 tails of cattle, 200 ears of cattle, or 400 hooves of cattle. Or, I could just have 100 cattle.

Anyone know the reason behind this turn of phrase?

BobT
09-21-2005, 01:40 PM
I think it's because it's easy to count heads when you're looking at a group of animals. The heads will have parts that are more easily distinguishable.

The OED says the word in that sense goes back to 1513.

KarlGauss
09-21-2005, 01:50 PM
"...it's easy to count heads ..."

It's also easy to give head for, say, a birthday gift. This was popular among cowboys (and still is).

bouv
09-21-2005, 02:34 PM
Why head? If I have 100 head of cattle, I could also have 100 tails of cattle, 200 ears of cattle, or 400 hooves of cattle. Or, I could just have 100 cattle.


Well...you may think you have 400 hooves and 100 tails, but what if three cows are missing a leg, two are missing a tail, and one an ear? Well, damn, that throws off yer numbers, don't it? But, for a cow to be alive, it has to have a head. So we count the one thing all cows will have if they are live, breathing, able to be milked/slaughtered.


I am, of course, just kidding. But my point remains valid, nonetheless.

chappachula
09-21-2005, 02:46 PM
a similar question is: why are bullets counted in rounds?

it's easier to say " 100 cows" than "100 head of cattle", and
it's easier to say " 100 bullets" than "100 rounds of ammunition"

I don't get it.

Fear Itself
09-21-2005, 02:52 PM
a similar question is: why are bullets counted in rounds?

it's easier to say " 100 cows" than "100 head of cattle", and
it's easier to say " 100 bullets" than "100 rounds of ammunition"

I don't get it.That's because the bullet is only part of a round of ammunition, which consists of the bullet, the casing, the primer and the charge.

rainy
09-21-2005, 02:53 PM
a similar question is: why are bullets counted in rounds?

it's easier to say " 100 cows" than "100 head of cattle", and
it's easier to say " 100 bullets" than "100 rounds of ammunition"

I don't get it.

Yeah but your assuming there is no context such as;

"Bob, how many cattle you got on your ranch now?"
"Oh about 100 head."

So cows/head and bullets/rounds kind of comes out in the wash.

-rainy

WhyNot
09-21-2005, 02:55 PM
Perhaps because that herd might have 29 steers, 30 bulls, 21 cows and 20 calves? If discussing veal sales, you'd have 25 bovines of interest, but 100 head of cattle for taxation.

Fear Itself
09-21-2005, 03:00 PM
Simply saying, "I have 100 head" does not automatically mean cattle. The term "head" is used not only for cattle, but for any livestock mammal like sheep, goats, buffalo, reindeer, swine etc. So if you use head, you must include the preposition to indicate a head of what.

Larry Mudd
09-21-2005, 04:04 PM
"Head" is synonymous with "general individual."

We have "head-counts," "head tax," and admission prices that are "$x.xx per head."

Like "head" of cattle, this tells us that we're talking about something that's generally inclusive. "Head" is more concise than "men, women, and children*" or "cows, steer, and calves."

This is the anglicized version of a per capita ("by head") designation.

Bruce_Daddy
09-21-2005, 05:41 PM
This is the anglicized version of a per capita ("by head") designation.I love lightbulb moments.

sinjin
09-21-2005, 06:43 PM
Ok, as long as we're talking about head;

What about "a head of steam" ie why is pressure measured in head (feet, meters)?

Static pressure head, dynamic pressure head, etc.? It always makes the boys giggle in my classes. :cool:

sinjin
09-21-2005, 06:46 PM
To be more clear on my last post, My question is not why pressure is sometimes measured in feet or meters or even inches of mercury (that's obvious :) ), but why is it then called "head"?

SpoilerVirgin
09-21-2005, 07:32 PM
"head of cattle" is an example of the grammatical form synecdoche, in which a part is substituted for the whole, the classic example being "red sails at sunset."

Heh. I just looked up synecdoche in the American Heritage Dictionary, and the example they use is "head [subsituting] for cattle."

Larry Mudd
09-21-2005, 07:37 PM
sinjin -- my WAG would be that it's for the same reason we call the foam on beer "head."

Picture a boiler for a simple steam engine. Water below, steam on top, ready to be piped off. A "head" of steam. Later engineering uses of "head" would be derived from this, wouldn't it?

silenus
09-21-2005, 07:41 PM
Actually, I think the steam usage derived from the earlier use of the term as a measurement of water pressure, as would be used to power a mill.

Larry Mudd
09-21-2005, 08:28 PM
That does appear to be the case, silenus. link (http://unc.edu/~rowlett/units/dictF.html#foot_of_head) "Head" is short for "headwaters"; it refers to the depth of the water upstream from the point at which the pressure is measured. One foot of head is equivalent to a pressure of 0.433 lb/in2Teach me to make WAGs in GQ. :D

Excalibre
09-21-2005, 08:57 PM
I always thought it was a fun coincidence that Mandarin Chinese - which uses measure-words like "head of cattle" or "sheet of paper" for all nouns - uses the same word - head - to count cattle.

AskNott
09-22-2005, 12:41 PM
My late great-aunt Ivy, a farm girl all her life, called them beeves, as in, "I have 47 beeves on my farm."

sinjin
09-22-2005, 01:16 PM
Thanks Larry and silenus. I've wondered about the "head" question for years. I love the Straight dope :cool:

Kevbo
09-22-2005, 02:58 PM
Ok, as long as we're talking about head;

What about "a head of steam" ie why is pressure measured in head (feet, meters)?

Static pressure head, dynamic pressure head, etc.? It always makes the boys giggle in my classes. :cool:

Centrifugical pumps are rated in head. Depending on the liquid being pumped, the pressure will vary with density, however, the pumping action similarly varies with density, so a given pump will produce the same head when pumping oil, water, glycol, etc.

Spectre of Pithecanthropus
09-22-2005, 03:27 PM
I suppose "head of cattle" is used because it implies that they're still on the hoof. Once they're slaughtered you just have beef, and I expect that the head is basically thrown away and you don't have it anymore.

Mbossa
09-22-2005, 04:06 PM
Now for the big question...

Why is a lettuce called a head of lettuce? I can vaguely imagine some kind of animal with a head made out of lettuce, but that image is seriously starting to freak me out.

Enright3
09-22-2005, 10:16 PM
City Slicker: Look at that bunch of Cows.
Cowboy: Not bunch; herd.
CS: Heard of what?
Cb: Herd of cows
CS: Why would I care what a cow heard? I've no secrets from a cow!

guizot
09-23-2005, 12:47 AM
Now for the big question...

Why is a lettuce called a head of lettuce? I can vaguely imagine some kind of animal with a head made out of lettuce, but that image is seriously starting to freak me out.Or an ear of corn? Maybe just because of similar shapes.

IUchem
09-29-2005, 10:50 PM
I am not trying to hijack this thread, but I have a similar inquiry; and the posts provided so far on this thread lead me to believe one of my fellow dopers will have some insight.

How did the term dead head come into use for both transportation and pumping of liquid materials?

This is by no means meant to disparage those "Dead Heads" who used to follow one of my favorite bands, the Grateful Dead, but I believe the term was in use for a fairly signigicant period of time before Jerry Garcia and the Dead started touring!

IUchem
09-29-2005, 10:52 PM
of course - I meant "significant"

Colibri
09-30-2005, 12:11 AM
I am not trying to hijack this thread, but I have a similar inquiry; and the posts provided so far on this thread lead me to believe one of my fellow dopers will have some insight.

How did the term dead head come into use for both transportation and pumping of liquid materials?

This is by no means meant to disparage those "Dead Heads" who used to follow one of my favorite bands, the Grateful Dead, but I believe the term was in use for a fairly signigicant period of time before Jerry Garcia and the Dead started touring!

Deadhead (http://worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-dea2.htm)

Originally, in the early 19th Century, someone admitted to a theatrical performance without charge.

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