Thursday, August 4, 2011

'What’s in a name?'

Living with animals and observing them over a long, long time, people have come up with words to describe them. Sometimes those words are complimentary, sometimes not. Probably most of the human-coined words for animals are over-generalized, and at least some are inaccurate.

“Bovine” is one example of animal-related words used metaphorically. Its definition is “of or relating to cattle, especially a cow. Dull; sluggish; stupid.” If one person describes another person’s behavior as “bovine,” that’s an insult, going by the dictionary definition of the word.

But we know that “bovine” is not a fair summary of cows, who are in fact capable of strong feelings, for instance.

Other examples of “animetaphores” include “hircine,” or relating to a goat – having a strong odor; lustful, lewd. “Anserine” relates to a goose: stupid; silly. “Pavonine” relates to a peacock: vain and showy, while “porcine” relates to swine – piggish, greedy, sloppy, boorish.

Just looking at the words, then the (alleged) characteristic behaviors that go with them, we can easily see the inaccuracies. First, the animals get a bad rap, and then humans are described with words that link them to inaccurate descriptions of animals.

Wouldn’t it be fun if animals could turn the tables and describe various human types with just one word for each? What would they come up with for (1) a man with a giant beer belly; (2) a vampy femme fatale; (3) a pompous, disdainful man or woman; (4) an artiste; (5) a professional athlete?

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