The fifth quarter is the butcher’s profit
U 6.394-7: And then the fifth quarter lost: all that raw stuff, hide, hair, horns. Comes to a big thing in a year. Dead meat trade. Byproducts of the slaughterhouses for tanneries, soap, margarine.
Cattle, sheep, and other four-footed animals have four quarters, each containing part of a body and a fore-leg or a hind-leg. The Joyce glossaries do not cover “fifth quarter” as an established expression. But Joyce knew something of the vocabulary of butchers, as he refers to the “fifth quarter” as “all that raw stuff, hide, hair, horns”.
The “fifth quarter” was important. Although some people regarded it as the refuse of the slaughterhouse floor, butchers were more knowing, and the “fifth quarter” (or in Roman abattoirs the quinto quarto) was said to be the “butcher’s profit”.
We find the expression used in English from at least 1794, in Arthur Young’s Annals of Agriculture vol. 22, p. 54:1
It was well known in Dublin circles, appearing in the local newspapers in discussions of the cattle and dead-meat trade:
The fifth quarter is “lost” to the Dublin trade, as Bloom laments, when beasts are sold as livestock (rather than by dead weight) for the Liverpool markets.
1 “Fifth quarter” could also be applied to poultry, when the four quarters comprised part of the body and a wing or leg. See, for example, this early example:
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