Everyone knows what "cattle" means. However, only a minority can define "chattel", so I'll define it before elaborating: it's a word denoting a slave, or in legal terms, a piece of property. Both words come from the Latin word caput, meaning head (sound familiar? It's where we get capitulate and decapitate from ), which later turned into capitalis, "of the head"(sound familiar? It's where we get capital from). Capitalis then evolved even more to capitale in Medieval Latin. At this point, it began to mean "property", because your head is your property, isn't it? At least that was the Catholic Church's logic. After Latin officially kicked the bucket, the French picked chatel, mostly because of a bunch of pronunciation slip-ups (in this, the h was silent). Sadly, this perfectly nice word was used for a horrendous thing, and in the early 1200s the English began using it as chattel to describe slaves, or their "property". Cattle came after chattel, if you can believe it.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.