From Middle English beef, bef, beof, borrowed from Anglo-Norman beof, Old French buef, boef (modern bœuf); from Latin bōs ("ox"), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *gʷṓws.
Beef in the sense of “a grudge, argument” was originally an American slang expression:
attested as a verb “to complain” in 1888: “He'll beef an' kick like a steer an' let on he won't never wear 'em.”— New York World, 13 May;
attested as a noun “complaint, protest, grievance, sim.” in 1899: “He made a Horrible Beef because he couldn't get Loaf Sugar for his Coffee.”—Fables in Slang (1900) by George Ade, page 80.
As to the possible origin of this American usage, it has been suggested that it can be traced back to a British expression for “alarm”, first recorded in 1725: "BEEF 'to alarm, as To cry beef upon us; they have discover'd us, and are in Pursuit of us". The term "beef" in this context would be a Cockney rhyming slang of thief. The continuous use of a similar expression, including its assumed semantic shift to 'complaint' in the United States from the 1880s onwards, needs further clarification though.
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