It’s funny: when I turn to my dollar-store dictionary for advice on the correct way to pronounce “offal” it says “awful”! I thought so. There’s nothing wonderful about offal: it’s all awful, even in its very utterance.
Offal is butcher’s term for the “less valuable edible parts of a carcass” — which is another way of saying the “guts” that are left over after the “meat” has been cleaved into muscular, familiar chunks. But the important thing to remember is that while these aren’t worth much, they’re still “edible.”
I think horror writers often use the thesaurus to look up synonyms for gut-terms. I know I do, and end up spending hours giggling as I turn through the pages (“ocular jelly”…tee-hee-hee…or in the right circumstance, “BInocular jelly”…har-har-har…or given the right animal, “RHINOCULAR JELLY”…bar-rar-rah!). But if a writer says “offal” when they really mean “entrails” or “intestines” then you have to wonder: did they just yank that word from a thesaurus or do they REALLY intend to suggest that their character’s bowels are edible?
Consider this test case from an imaginary story:
She swiped her sharpened plastic credit card across his belly and the line it cut proceeded to split open and charge his account with a massive withdrawal of blood and entrails. He scooped his arms around his waist to collect his offal but it spit and spooled out from his gashed abdomen like so many coins from a slot machine, and as the disemboweled man fell into the brackish puddle of his own innards, she chuckled to herself: “I told you: it pays to Discover!”
A-hem. “Offal” might sound like the right word choice in this context, but the term is incredibly out of place, because it refers more to food than currency. This murderer is not a crazy cannibal, just a crazy consumer. If she wants offal, she’ll spend her Payback Bonus Award on a proper tripe dinner at a fancy restaurant (where the waiter better be nice).
But to be fair, my research, albeit scant, on the derivation of the term “offal” reveals that it comes from the Middle English “af vallen” which quite literally translates as to “fall off” — ergo, “afval” was the name given to anything that fell off the butcher’s block. Thus, I stand corrected.
Fine: “Offal” can refer to any body parts that “fall off,” whether edible or not.
But with one caveat. The five-second rule still applies.
Related Reading: A Head-to-Tail Meal