“cattle” vs. “cows”

Nouns, Plurals, Versus

I wrote yesterday about the nouns “swine” and “pig”.

Thinking about other animals, this has made me ask even more questions: 1. What exactly does “cattle” mean? 2. How is “cattle” related to “cow”? 3. Is it preferable to refer to bovines as “cattle” or “cows”?

Dictionary.com says that the plural noun “cattle” primarily means bovine animals, esp. domesticated members of the genus Bos.

And Dictionary.com says that the first three meanings of the noun “cow” are (a) the mature female of a bovine animal, esp. of the genus Bos, (b) the female of various other large animals, as the elephant or whale, and (c) Informal. a domestic bovine of either sex and any age.

So it is preferable to use “cattle” to refer to bovines in general and to use “cows” to refer specifically to mature female bovines or to refer to the females (usually mature) of other large animals (usually mammals).