Have a beef

Have a beef is an idiomatic phrase that has been in use for over one hundred years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, close shave, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom have a beef, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

The idiom to have a beef means to have a complaint about something, to have a disagreement with someone, to be dissatisfied with something. This idiomatic use of the word beef may be used as a noun or a verb, as in to beef about something. The word beef to mean a complaint, disagreement or dissatisfaction came into use in the United States in the 1880s. The origin of this term is unknown. Some speculate that it refers to two beefy–meaning muscular–men settling a dispute with violence. Others believe it is tied to the Cockney rhyming slang, “hot beef” which means “stop thief.” How this would have traveled to the United States is unknown. Others believe it may have something to do with the competition between ranchers and farmers during the days of American pioneering. The word beef is is derived from the Old French word buef, which means the flesh of cows or oxen.


“I don’t know, I think of it as music that no one really has a beef with.” (The Hartford Courant)

He said the organization also has a beef with Beyond Meat’s use of an image of a cow — albeit one wearing a superhero cape — in its logo. (The Calgary Herald)

Many Rangers players weren’t familiar with why Laureano and Canha had a beef with Sampson and found out only after things transpired. (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Mahad Ali’s mother told detectives that her son and the victim had “a beef” that stretched back months, prosecutors said. (The Minneapolis Star Tribune)

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