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Cattle did not originate as the term for bovine animals. Cattle originally meant movable personal property, especially livestock of any kind, as opposed to real property (the land, which also included wild or small free-roaming animals such as chickens — they were sold as part of the land).The plural cȳ became ki or kie in Middle English, and an additional plural ending was often added, giving kine, kien, but also kies, kuin and others.Although the phrase "that cow is a bull" is absurd from a lexicographic standpoint, the word cow is easy to use when a singular is needed and the sex is unknown or irrelevant – when "there is a cow in the road", for example.Further, any herd of fully mature cattle in or near a pasture is statistically likely to consist mostly of cows, so the term is probably accurate even in the restrictive sense.Today, when used without any other qualifier, the modern meaning of "cattle" is usually restricted to domesticated bovines.

Hybrid individuals and even breeds exist, not only between taurine cattle and zebu (such as the sanga cattle, Bos taurus africanus), but also between one or both of these and some other members of the genus Bos – yaks (the dzo or yattle The hybrid origin of some types may not be obvious – for example, genetic testing of the Dwarf Lulu breed, the only taurine-type cattle in Nepal, found them to be a mix of taurine cattle, zebu, and yak.

—are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates.

They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos taurus.

This is the origin of the now archaic English plural, "kine".

The Scots language singular is coo or cou, and the plural is "kye".