Printer Friendly

The human bestiary.

A feature probably shared by all languages, and certainly by the major languages of Western Europe, which are the only ones with which I can profess some familiarity, is the frequent figurative application of animal names to human beings. The names of the fox are used in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian to designate the cunning person, those of the donkey to characterize stupidity or stubbornness, and those of the pig to characterize the physically or morally 'dirty' person. The names of the dog are also used in generally derogatory ways. More understandably, terms meaning 'vermin', 'parasite', or 'noxious insect' are also generally applied to humans in highly pejorative senses. These and other associations mirror past and present perceptions of parallels between people and animals, lexicalized in usage at various stages: for instance, whereas the identification of the donkey with stupidity is ancient, since the Latin asinus already had that sense, the application of the term mule to a person who smuggles drugs from one part of the world to another seems to be fairly recent.

The original inspiration for the associations has to be sought mainly in human psychology and its varying perceptions of points of similarity between particular animals and particular types of human or types of human behaviour, but one would have to distinguish different layers, both chronological and cultural, given that some parallels are not only ancient but have religious, symbolic, or literary origins, whereas others, humorous, cynical, or affectionate, are more popular, in the sense of belonging to popular culture, and often more transitory in nature.

The peoples of Western Europe have many elements of culture in common. Except for most of Germany, they were conquered by Rome, and were romanized to a greater or lesser extent: Latin usage pre-dates that of the modern languages in human applications of the names of the dog, the cat, the lion, and the vulture, as well as that of the donkey. (1) Until the Reformation, these countries shared the Catholic religion and its symbolism, with Latin as its common language, and with the Bible as a source of many relevant associations. Christianity has given us the dove as a symbol of peace, and hence of the pacific person; the Bible is the inspiration for references to scapegoats, sacrificial lambs, lost sheep, black sheep, the clergy and their flocks, and many others. Either through an unbroken transmission from generation to generation, or through the clergy and others with some learning, Latin associations of a more secular nature also seem to have found their way into the vernacular. The case of words like asinus has already been mentioned: it seems reasonable also to see expressions such as odd bird, drole d'oiseau and seltsamer Vogel as calques of the Latin rara avis, although the modern forms are more pejorative in tone. Similarly, the fact that the eagle has been a symbol of power and courage since ancient times is reflected in the favourable nature of its human associations. In iconography, the cat has been a symbol of the woman, and the goat has been linked to the devil, with his cloven foot: both animals have had a role in sorcery, which is probably reflected in the associations that involve them.

Other associations had their origins in literary texts such as Aesop's fables, or, somewhat later, in medieval traditions and texts centring on Reynard the Fox. Some associations therefore reflect attitudes which are no longer typical: it is doubtful, for instance, that modern West Europeans would choose to characterize the donkey as the epitome of stupidity, not only because they have relatively little contact with donkeys nowadays, but because other candidates would seem more obvious (as later examples will show, the use of various bird-names in all the languages suggests a more typical recent view of animal stupidity).

Examples are found in all levels of discourse, from the formal down to the most esoteric slang. Admittedly, most examples belong to colloquial speech or general slang (two categories that shade one into the other), and originate in the drawing of humorous or cynical parallels. Associations may be extended through synonymic relays, for instance, one bird-name inspiring extension to others), and in one case at least, if the etymology of the French maquereau for 'pimp' is the Middle Dutch makelare, 'broker, agent', as generally believed, a popular etymology has been involved. A phonetic resemblance may trigger a substitution, and phonetic symbolism may have played a role in the choice of some associations (one wonders whether the choice of shrew to designate the bad-tempered woman was influenced by coincidence with the initial shr- of words like shrill and shriek). The process is ongoing and often unstable: new parallels are drawn, and others fall into disuse, because novelty is at a premium, particularly in slang. Such is the profusion of terms that it is impossible to do justice to one language, let alone several, without having an exhaustive knowledge of the colloquialisms used in every milieu.

For obvious reasons, I have ignored material drawn from Antipodean or North American usage unless the forms concerned have spread to Europe. I have also ignored most of the examples drawn from the slang of special groups, though it is not always easy to judge what is a special area: terms applied to the police, to criminals, or to students, for example, are often widely known. It is difficult, even when dealing with one's mother tongue, to know which expressions have passed out of use, so I refer to modern dictionaries, whose compilers have a greater expertise in the field than most laymen. (2)

There is no ideal way of arranging the data, given that I am dealing with chronologically and culturally diverse material involving a wide variety of animals in several languages, and involving terms that are sometimes pejorative and sometimes not. Whichever approach is adopted, some links will be obscured, but to simplify matters, I have grouped by animal rather than by semantic category to avoid the same animal appearing under several different headings.

There are a good number of differences between English and French in the application of animal names to humans, so I have extended my examination of this aspect to the other major non-Slavonic languages, German, Spanish, and Italian, though coverage is less thorough than that of English and French. Similes are not included, as to include them would have made an already diffuse study very unwieldy, and a comparison with an animal is not quite the same as identifying someone with it: metaphor represents a further step in the process of association. Combinations like eager beaver, or une vieille chouette ('an eccentric old woman'), involving direct identification, are included.

Common Ground

A number of animals (the fox, the donkey, the pig, the dog, the goat, the sheep, and certain lower forms of life, at least) have a lengthy history of human associations common to all the languages selected, and are grouped together here, along with the general terms for 'animal'/'beast', which are also universally applied to humans.

Animal/beast In all the languages concerned, the terms are pejorative, except that the English (you) beast! and the French (grande) or (grosse) bete! can be used more or less affectionately in appropriate contexts. In English and French, the terms are otherwise very derogatory, in line with the related adjective bestial. The German Tier and Biest and Italian animale are used in the sense of 'wretch, brute'. The French derivatives beta (masculine) and betasse (feminine), however, are used in the sense of 'fool, idiot' as are both the Spanish bestia and animal, and the Italian bestia.

The fox It is worth recalling that the medieval stories about Reynard the Fox, extant in several languages, not only presented that animal as a crafty customer, but were influential enough to cause the replacement of Old French goupil by the name of the figure in the animal epic. The name of the fox is often combined with the adjective meaning 'old' (for example, old fox, vieux renard, alter Fuchs, vecchia volpe (a derivative form volpone appears to be used only in the figurative sense of 'sly person').

The donkey and the mule As I have noted, the names of the donkey are used in all the languages to designate the fool, on their own or in phrasal combinations: compare the English donkey, ass, and jackass, the French ane, un ane bate, 'a complete ass' (literally 'a donkey wearing a packsaddle'), un ane rouge, 'a stupid and malicious person', une bourrique, 'a stubborn or stupid person', the German ein alter Esel, the Spanish burro (feminine, burra, 'stupid woman'), un burro cargado de letras, 'a pompous ass' (literally 'a donkey loaded with book-learning'), and the Italian asino, un pezzo d'asino 'a fool', somaro, and ciuco. In most of the languages, the term also suggests obstinacy, a sense reserved for mule in English (but French also has etre une tete de mule, and Italian mulo/fare il mulo, 'to be stubborn'. In colloquial French, the abusive terms applied to policemen include bourriques (also shortened to bourres), a usage that does not appear to have equivalents in the other languages.

The pig In all the languages under consideration certain pig names designate the dirty person and the greedy person: pig, piggy; (3) cochon (the feminine form cochonne, 'slut' can relate to sexual misbehaviour as well as to dirtiness), porc, and occasionally truie, 'sow', when speaking of a woman; Schwein and Ferkel, or Sau when applied to a female; cochino, cerdo, puerco, and marrano; and in Italian, more exuberantly, porco, porcello, porcellino, and porcellone, with diminutive or augmentative forms relating to physical size or gradations of expressivity, maiale being the most insulting form. The existence of synonyms has permitted differences in usage: the word pig is applied in English to people who are either slovenly or greedy, and its pejorative force has also led it to be applied specifically to the police. The word hog is applied to gluttons rather than to dirty people, while swine is used to designate the scoundrel rather than the sloven and the glutton. German does not seem to make such distinctions, both types of defect being covered by the words Schwein and Ferkel, (4) although the compounds Schweinhund or Schweinehund ('pig-dog', a combination also used to translate a term allegedly used by the Chinese) is restricted to the sense of 'scoundrel', as are the further combinations Schweinigel ('pig-hedgehog') and Schweinskerl/Schweinekerl ('pig-fellow'). In Spanish also, cochino, cerdo, puerco, and marrano can all designate moral as well as physical turpitude. The Spanish and Italian feminines, puerca and marrana, and porca, however, are only used to designate the slut. In other words, the names of the male pig tend to be applied mainly to male slovens and gluttons, and secondarily to men considered immoral or cruel, while those of the sow are applied only to wantons. The pejorative value of the pig's name is also illustrated in French by its transfer to adjectival use in the sense of 'obscene, dirty-minded', and in Spanish by the same type of adjectival transfer (cochino for 'rotten, measly, dirty'), and the use of nouns such as cochinada and cochineria for 'dirty trick, filthy act'. It should also be noted that it is only in English that the police are known as pigs.

The dog Many people in Western Europe nowadays adore dogs (think of the English expression the dog is man's best friend), but this does not translate into many favourable associations. This pejorative view, which goes back at least to Latin, seems rather to mirror an earlier image of a lecherous animal with insanitary habits and a servile nature. In English, this pejorative view is most obvious in the use of the female form bitch as a strong term of abuse, the abusive use of hound (as in lazy hound), cur, and tyke, and in the combinations dirty dog and son of a bitch. On its own, dog is applied to unattractive, untrustworthy, or weak men, and an unattractive woman is also a dog (not a bitch, since that has acquired an even more pejorative sense). The terms (young) pup, puppy, or puppy dog are variously applied to inexperienced, foolish or impertinent young men. Mongrel is used abusively to designate a person of mixed race. The pejorative connotation is largely absent from combinations such as old dog, young dog, or sea dog, or the jocular bloodhound, 'detective' (an association paralleled in the French limier and Spanish sabueso), and newshound (also perhaps inspired by the legendary ability of the bloodhound to follow a scent). A dogsbody is an underling condemned to carry out all the boring and unimportant jobs. The use of bulldog to denote the sheriff's officer, and notably the Proctor's attendants at Oxford and Cambridge, is based on the legendary tenacity of this breed of dog, and dates back only to the seventeenth century (SOED). The application of terrier to members of the Territorial Army involves abbreviation and punning, but it is not clear how many people actually relate the word to dogs.

Usage in contemporary French is a little different, in so far as the senses chien, unpleasant man', and chienne, 'randy woman', mentioned in von Wartburg (ii, pp. 192-93), have ceased to be current. Mirroring what can be seen as the servile attitude of the dog to its master, chien is used in the sense of 'subordinate, dogsbody', especially in combinations such as le chien du commissaire for 'the police-station clerk'. In scholastic slang, surveillants ('supervisors') are known as caniches, 'poodles', probably by extension from chien in the sense of 'subordinate'. The less usual word matin, 'big watchdog, mastiff', is used in the sense of 'sly dog', with a feminine matine, 'hussy', which seems to be used only figuratively. Roquet, '(nasty) lap-dog, cur, mongrel', is used colloquially in the sense of 'bad-tempered little runt' (Collins-Robert). The term jeune chien is applied to an immature, socially incompetent young man (much as is puppy). The common derogatory term canaille, either 'riff-raff' or 'scoundrel', is not obviously linked to the dog, since it was borrowed from Italian as a replacement of earlier chiennaille. Chiennerie is also listed in dictionaries in the colloquial sense of 'rabble'. Other pejorative uses of chien indirectly relating to humans are the adjectival chien, meaning 'miserly', and in the expression un chien/ une chienne de vie, 'a dog's life', typical of many languages (for example, the German Hundeleben). As in English, the name of the bloodhound (limier) is used to designate a detective. For once, there is an expression that is not pejorative: top dog comes from the fact that, as in the case of many other animals, there is a hierarchy within a group of dogs.

German uses not only Hund (and Schweinhund/Schweinehund, Hundesohn, and Hundsfott) in much the same way as English uses swine, but has a whole range of pejorative combinations referring to people, such as bloder Hund, fauler Hund, gemeiner Hund, and armer Hund, (though armes Schwein is commoner). A gerissener Hund is a 'sly dog'.

In Spanish and Italian, unlike French, the words perro and cane can be applied to men in the sense of 'scoundrel', and as adjectives meaning 'awful, wretched'. The Spanish derivative perreria can mean not only 'pack of dogs', but also 'gang of villains', and perrada also means 'dirty trick'. In Italian, cane is used in a number of derogatory senses, such as 'brute', but also 'ham actor' and 'unmelodious singer', and has combinations like figlio d'un cane, and, as I have already noted, the derivative canaglia, meaning either 'riff-raff' or 'scoundrel', as well as canagliata, 'dirty trick'. Cucciolo can mean 'greenhorn, novice'.

The goat As I have shown, Biblical tradition has handed down the image of the scapegoat in scapegoat, bouc emissaire, Sundenbock, chiro expurgatori, chivo espiatorio and capro espiatorio. In antiquity, the goat was already associated with male lechery, and this tradition is reflected in the use of old goat and alter Bock, in the sense of 'lecherous older man', while the French bouc and Spanish cabron and cabrito, and the Italian becco have all acquired the sense of 'cuckold', no doubt because of the horns but also perhaps because of a relationship between the goat and sexuality, linked to its role in the black arts. The use of the diminutive in Spanish to designate the cuckold can be seen as treating him as a very inferior, immature male, since he cannot keep his wife from seeking satisfaction elsewhere. In Italian, caprone is used in the sense of 'tramp'.

In French slang, the female chevre is one of the words used to designate the whore, while the German Ziege is applied abusively to women, equivalent to 'bitch' and 'cow' in English: the combination doofe Ziege, 'stupid bitch', is also used. The only non-derogatory use of words connected with the goat seem to be those of the colloquial English kid for 'child or young adult' and kiddy for 'young child'.

The sheep There are many biblical references to the lamb and the sheep (black sheep, lost sheep, the lamb without stain) that have left their mark in ordinary usage in all the languages. Again following Biblical usage, terms for 'flock' or 'sheep' are used to designate the members of a congregation, or the whole body of Christians (flock, ouailles, (5) Herde, gregge). The lamb in particular is associated with gentleness, even meekness, which, as excessive gentleness, can have pejorative tinges: lamb, agneau, cordero, and agnello all denote a gentle person; a well-behaved and attractive child is a little lamb, and, in English, lamb and, in German, Schafchen are used as terms of endearment. Although the Italian pecora is applied, like agnello, to a gentle person, the names of the adult sheep are often associated with timidity and stupidity: compare the English sheep, 'stupid, poor-spirited person', and German Schaf and Schafskopf, 'dolt, ninny'. In French slang, mouton can mean 'informer', another derogatory use. However, in English, ram is one of the names of male animals used to designate the sexually-active man.

Vermin The words for lower forms of life are often applied in all these languages to various types of 'contemptible person': for example, the collective vermin (and, applied to an individual rather than a group, its deformation varmint), parasite, worm, louse, maggot, nit, and rat. The word gadfly is applied to people who make repeated attacks on people or policies, inspired by the irritating attacks that the insect makes on cattle. French uses vermine and parasite much as the English equivalents, but also cafard ('cockroach') for 'hypocrite', larve for a contemptible person, and punaise ('bug') for 'mischief-maker' (a punaise de sacristie is a bigoted, church-loving woman). Cloporte ('woodlouse') is used in the sense of 'creep' (and, in the appropriate context, in the sense of 'concierge', probably via a play on the words clot porte), and pou, 'louse', according to Colin and Mevel, to mean 'girl, woman' and 'member of the Maquis', both of which seem somewhat inappropriate, given the other associations attached to the word (such as laid comme un pou and sale comme un pou). The word morpion 'crab-louse' is used humorously in the sense of 'brat'. Mouche, and more frequently, its derivative mouchard, are used in the sense of police-informer, and more favourably, une fine mouche is a subtle, clever person.

Although the English rat and shrew are used in extremely derogatory senses, the names of the rat and the mouse are generally used in less derogatory senses, particularly those of the mouse. In French, a girl can be called a souris, but a petite souris is a mousy woman (in English, mouse was also formerly used in the sense of 'woman'). The rat d'eglise is a devout person, as is the church mouse. There is nothing derogatory about the use of town mouse and country mouse, the French equivalents rat de ville and rat des champs, or the Italian topo di campagna, topo di citta. The French rat is used in the sense of 'miser', which is clearly pejorative, and also figures in rat de bibliotheque, 'bookworm', which is slightly derogatory, in petit rat (d'Opera) 'pupil of the Paris Opera school', perhaps from an image of young creatures scurrying along the corridors of the Opera from class to class, and in rat d'hotel, 'hotel thief ', and rat de cave, 'exciseman'. The French rat has also been applied somewhat abusively in military and scholastic slang to persons in positions of authority, such as sergeant-majors and school monitors. However, mon (petit) rat! is used as a term of endearment, as is the equally unlikely ma puce!

German has very derogatory uses of Ungeziefer, Schmarotzer, and Parasit (the Nazis often referred to the Jews as Ungeziefer). As in English, the bookworm is a worm (Bucherwurm), not as in the Romance equivalents, a rodent: for example, the Spanish raton de biblioteca, and the Italian topo di biblioteca.

Also derogatory are the Spanish sabandija(s), parasito, and gusano ('maggot'), and the Italian verme and parassita. Compare also the Spanish mosca, 'bore', and the Italian zanzara, 'mosquito', in the sense of '(human) pest', and in a rather different vein, the Spanish piojo and Italian pidocchio, 'louse', are both used to designate an upstart or nouveau riche. In Spanish, escarabajo, 'beetle', can mean 'dwarf ' or 'runt', and cucaracha, 'cockroach', figures in the sense of 'priest', presumably from the black cassock worn by the priest: these are pejorative in intent, but less so than the earlier examples. The Italian cavalletta, 'grasshopper', is used in the sense of 'spendthrift', recalling the improvident cricket in La Fontaine's fable La Cigale et la fourmi.

The name of the leech is applied in English, French and Italian to a person who seeks to extract the maximum money from someone, and also to someone one cannot get rid of, senses that are related to the fact that the leech not only gorges on its victim's blood but is very difficult indeed to dislodge. The French sauterelle, 'grasshopper', variously designates a thin woman, an incompetent one (jumping around to little purpose?), and, in slang, 'prostitute' (perhaps by association with the use of sauter meaning 'to copulate with'. According to Harrap's, a dialectal sauteriaut can mean 'small, active child' (because it jumps about a lot, presumably). French also uses criquet ('locust') in the sense of 'undersized person', which is perhaps more derogatory in tone. The Spanish bicho ('insect, creepy-crawly') for 'brat' and bicho raro for 'weird person' are also insulting in tone.

Some atypically 'neutral' uses of insect names are the English (little) mite, and the French moucheron, 'gnat', to designate a baby or very young child, which are presumably hypocoristic in nature, or exaggerate the minute size of the children. There is also the (social) butterfly, or in French, papillon, to denote frivolous, flighty persons, usually women. German uses some insect names in meliorative ways: Biene, and, somewhat archaically, Motte, for 'girl'.

Other Mammals (taken in the alphabetical order of the English forms)

The bat English seems to be alone in using (old) bat to denote an unpleasant or unattractive (old) woman, as it is in associating bats with mental disorder (as in batty and bats in the belfry).

The bear The name of the bear is generally used in pejorative ways, in the senses of 'rough, uncouth or clumsy person' (as in bear, ours mal leche, and Bar), or of 'surly, unsociable person' (the French ours, the Italian orso), or 'fool' (the Spanish oso). A more specialized and recent association has been that of one who speculates for a fall in share prices, the English bear is calqued in German, but not in the Romance languages. In English cub is used in the sense of 'awkward, irritating young man'.

The beaver Beaver in the sense of 'bearded man' is rather archaic, but (eager) beaver, 'enthusiastic worker' is current in recognition of the animal's industriousness. Castor is used in French slang in senses such as 'virile man' and 'male prostitute' (see Colin and Mevel).

The camel Chameau is a term of abuse in French, applied to both men and women, and also figures in French and German slang as one of the names of the prostitute (an animal that one rides). It was also used formerly in the sense of 'smuggler', a calque of which may have provided the starting-point for the Spanish camello, 'drug-pusher'. The English and French use of mule in the sense of 'drug-smuggler' is based on the fact that both the camel and the mule are beasts of burden.

The cat The name of the cat has provoked a variety of associations, inspired by different aspects of its nature. The use of cat and the German (falsche) Katze for a 'spiteful woman' is in line with the animal's tendency to turn unexpectedly on its owner, while pussycat, for 'weak but amiable person', while still somewhat derogatory, reflects a more peaceful role, and scaredy cat, the fact that some cats are very timid when faced with unknown people. A promiscuous woman is called an alley cat, while the term fat cat, designating in particular well-paid executives, combines a slang use of fat in the sense of 'rich' with the image of a well-fed, smug-looking feline. Copycat sees a cat as a nasty creature with a particular fault. The playfulness and grace of the kitten has inspired more favourable associations (kitten, sex kitten, and Katzchen, for 'girl'). The French minet/minette, a colloquial term for the cat, is used in the sense of 'fashionable, sophisticated young man/woman', and, along with chat, is used as a term of endearment in combinations such as mon (petit) chat, mon minet, ma minette.

Tomcat evokes the image of the sexually-active man, and the French slang marlou ('tomcat') is one of the names given to the pimp. Vilain matou ('nasty tomcat') is used in the sense of 'nasty customer'. Chat is also used in legal contexts, probably because of an early phonetic and semantic association between griffe and greffier ('clerk of the court'), who is colloquially a chat, along with an examining magistrate. The form chat fourre ('fur-lined cat') has been applied to judges since Rabelais. The Spanish gato is used in the sense of 'cat-burglar' and also in that of 'inhabitant of Madrid', while the Italian gatto di piombo is a clumsy person.

Cattle The application of the generic term cattle to people is described as archaic in the SOED, but it is worth recalling that the film director Sir Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) described actors as 'cattle'. Cow is applied to women with slightly greater emphasis on stupidity or ugliness than bitch, which focuses more on nastiness; heifer is one of the words used to describe an unattractive woman. The French vache is applied abusively to both men and women, as is swine in English, and has also become the most common term of abuse applied to police. Vache a lait is used in the sense of 'mug', and, more rarely, veau in that of 'fool, simpleton'. The German Kuh is used much as is the English bitch, while, in Italian, vacca is applied to sluts as well. In German slang, Rindviecher, a variant of Rindvieh, is used in the sense of 'ass'.

Bull is used in several senses: in the context of the Stock Exchange, it refers to the speculator who hopes that stocks will go up (as opposed to the bear who expects them to go down); it is also one of the words used to describe the virile male, and the policeman (though it may in this case be a calque of the German Bulle, for which see Green). Spanish seems to be the only other language that applies the word for 'bull' (toro) to men, with the sense of 'strong, macho man'.

The deer Stag is used in two unrelated senses: that of 'man on his own' and 'speculator in new issues on the Stock Exchange'. The French chevreuil, 'roe-deer/ roe-buck', is applied contemptuously to informers, and a coward is sometimes called a cerf, but (ma) biche is used as a term of endearment, and can also be applied to a young girl. In German slang, a Hirsch is 'a smart fellow', but the word is also used as a term of abuse (Collins-Ger).

The ferret Ferret in the sense of 'snooper' seems to be little used nowadays (however, the expression to ferret about is still current), but, in Spanish, huron is listed as meanings 'spy, nosey-parker' as well as that of 'shy, unsociable person'.

The guinea-pig The name of the guinea-pig, much used in animal experiments, has been extended to human subjects of social or scientific research: compare English guinea-pig, French cobaye, Spanish Cobayo, and Italian Cavia. German, however, has preferred the expression Versuchskaninchen, 'experiment-rabbit', as the animal and human equivalent.

The hare The hare and the rabbit are among the animals most associated with cowardice, but German and Spanish are the languages that have chosen the hare: Angsthase and Hasenfuss are used for 'milksop'; liebre for 'coward'. French, on the other hand, has highlighted another aspect of the hare's behaviour, in that lievre is used colloquially in the sense of 'lively fellow'. German has another more playful use in Haschen, in the sense of 'sexually attractive young woman'.

The hedgehog The use of hedgehog in the sense of 'inconsiderate person' is described as 'archaic' in COED, but it is listed in Green as having the derogatory sense of 'foreigner, especially black or Asian person', through rhyming slang (wog ~ hedgehog). The French herisson is used in the more obvious sense of an over-sensitive ('prickly') person. Muret-Sanders lists the curious German combination Schweinigel ('pig-hedgehog') in the sense of 'mucky pup, smutty fellow'. The Spanish erizo is used to designate a prickly or surly individual.

The horse In English, the application to humans of horse, stallion, mare, and filly ('lively young woman') is now rather archaic, whereas, in French, cheval is applied to someone who works like a Trojan, or to a hefty, mannish woman. It occurs in expressions like un cheval de retour 'an old lag' (that is, 'back in trouble'), or un cheval pour le travail/un cheval a l'ouvrage, 'a glutton for work'. The English stud, 'sexually successful man', is drawn from a word designating the stallion used for breeding. The French poulain ('colt') is in common use in the sense of '(young) protege, trainee', and pouliche, 'filly', is among the slang names of the whore (one of the pimp's stable). In colloquial French, bourrin, 'nag', is another term applied to the prostitute. In Austria and Southern Germany, Ross can mean 'dolt'. In Spanish, caballo de buena boca can mean 'nice fellow', and caballo blanco can mean 'backer', possibly from the idea of 'a man on a white horse' rather than the horse alone. (6) The Italian cavallo is used metonymically in the sense of 'cavalryman', as, in English, horse was used when cavalry were more important than they are today. Cavallone, 'big horse', is applied to a 'clumsy fellow'.

The lion The lion has long been a symbol of human bravery: In English and French, lion is used both in the sense of 'brave man' and 'literary celebrity'. Atypically, the Spanish leona is used pejoratively in the sense of 'tart', as well as of 'concierge', presumably because such ladies could be ferocious.

The mole A mole is someone with very poor sight, but recently, the term has been applied more frequently to someone in an organization who betrays confidential information, or to a deep cover agent put into position long before he or she is expected to be of service. The French taupe, German Maultier and Spanish topo are all used in the sense of 'spy', but it is not clear whether some or all developed the metaphor independently, based on the image of the mole burrowing away. In Italian talpa can mean 'dullard'. In French the expression vieille taupe designates a nasty old woman.

The monkey (and baboons, apes) Ape, monkey, and baboon are used in a variety of mainly derogatory senses. An ape is an ugly person or a badly behaved one, and so is a baboon, while combinations like artful monkey and cheeky monkey express rather rueful admiration for a child or youngster's cleverness or cheek. In French, singe is used in several senses: 'ugly person', 'mimic', or 'boss'. Sagouin, 'squirrel-monkey', is used in the sense of 'dirty person' or 'swine', and has a feminine form sagouine that seems to be used only in the figurative sense of 'slut'. The German Affe and a compound form Affenarsch mean 'twit, clown'. In Spanish, mono has a number of colloquial applications to humans: 'mimic', 'copycat', 'cocky youngster', 'ugly fellow', and 'policeman' are all current. The feminine, mona, means 'mimic, copycat', but also 'drunken woman'. In Italian, scimmia also denotes the mimic and the ugly person, and the derivative scimmiotto ('young monkey') is applied jocularly to young children, but abusively to small and ugly people.

The panther The application of panthere to a violent, headstrong woman is described as archaic, but is still in colloquial use in the expression ma panthere to refer to a wife.

The porcupine The French porc-epic and Italian porcospino are both applied to 'prickly' people.

The rabbit The aspects of rabbit behaviour reflected in the human associations include its timidity and its sexual energy, but extend in other directions as well: in English and Italian, rabbit and coniglio mean 'coward', and the English is also applied to a novice. French uses un chaud lapin for 'a randy man', un drole de lapin for 'an odd person', un rude/fameux lapin for 'a wily customer', and mon petit lapin as a term of endearment. A mere lapine is a woman with many children, from the notorious fertility of rabbits (compare the English breeding like rabbits). Mon petit lapin is one of the many terms of endearment addressed to women. German, as I have said, associates the hare, not the rabbit, with cowardice, and speaks of a Versuchskaninchen where the other languages have the words for 'guinea-pig'. The Spanish conejo is used in the sense of 'recruit, squaddie' (a military novice), and gazapo is used in the senses of 'sly fellow' and 'cat burglar', attributing to the rabbit, like the French rude lapin, metaphorical qualities that are not immediately obvious.

The skunk English is the only language in which the name of this animal is used as a term of abuse, probably because of transfer from American usage, given that the skunk is not found in Europe.

The tiger Tiger and the French tigre both designate a fierce or cruel man, and tigress and tigresse a fierce or jealous woman. The Oxford Dictionary of Slang lists tiger as also being applied to a ship captain's personal steward.

The weasel and the marten Weasel is used to describe a devious, shifty person. The French fouine, 'stone-marten', an animal similar in appearance and habits to the weasel, has the same type of metaphorical sense of 'sly person, snooper'.

The Spanish garduna, 'marten', appears to be the source of garduno/garduna 'sneak thief ', in line with the predatory habits of the animal.

The wolf Wolf is applied both to a cruel or voracious person and, more colloquially, to a sexual predator: compare also the expressions lone wolf, in the sense of 'solitary person', and a wolf in sheep's clothing to designate a person who hides evil intentions under a friendly demeanour (the equivalent of this Biblical reference is also found in German, ein Wolf im Schafspelz). The French loup is used less pejoratively in combinations such as jeune loup 'ambitious young man' and (vieux) loup de mer '(old) sea-dog'. In Spanish and Italian, lobo de mar and lupo di mare parallel loup de mer. Although few still believe in the legend of the man who turns into a wolf, its name is represented in all the languages involved: werewolf, loup-garou, Werwolf, hombre-lobo, and licantropo.

Reptiles and Amphibians

In English and French at least, the name of the long-extinct dinosaur has come to be applied to someone whose ideas and attitudes are considered to be impossibly out of date.

Human beings have an atavistic fear of snakes, and this carries over onto the category as a whole, in so far as the English and French reptile are used in the sense of 'repugnant person'. The figurative equivalent in German, Kriecher ('crawler'), is close to the word for 'reptile', Kriechtier. The English snake (and the fuller snake in the grass) and viper designate a treacherous and contemptible person, as do the French serpent and vipere. The application of the term serpent a lunettes to a spectacle-wearer, however, is jocular rather than pejorative, and is based on the fact that the cobra is known as a serpent a lunettes, from the spectacle-shaped markings on its hood. In the more specialized slang of the French Grandes Ecoles, room-leaders are known as crotales ('rattle-snakes'), by synonymic relay from earlier serpent, which, according to Esnault, is by humorous distortion of sergent. The German Schlange ('snake') is a treacherous woman, falsche Schlange, 'a snake in the grass', while, in Italian, serpe and serpente are also used figuratively for 'treacherous person'.

In English, lounge lizard, denoting a womanizer or professional dance partner who frequents hotel lounges, is little heard nowadays; the French lezard is used in the sense of 'lazybones' (lizards are seen as doing little but sun themselves), whereas the Spanish lagarta is applied to a sly woman, and used as a term of abuse to women. The Spanish word is feminine, which helps to explain the application to females, but the reason for its pejorative force remains unclear.

In French, a very slow person can be a tortue, for obvious reasons; the term is also applied to a female concierge, perhaps because she has a house on her back, so to speak. Crocodile can denote a moneylender, a tough businessman, or criminal (from the crocodile's greed and ferocity). In the slang of the Grandes Ecoles, caiman is applied to junior staff (maybe because they are seen as having big mouths).

The French have long been known familiarly to the British as Frogs, from their consumption of frogs' legs. In French, grenouille de benitier denotes a pious woman (from her proximity to the holy water in the benitier). In French slang, babies, and stubborn men, are sometimes known as tetards ('tadpoles'): in both cases, there is a play on words, on teter 'to suck at the breast', in one case, and on entete 'stubborn', in the other. Crapaud is one of the words humorously applied to children (as well as to young apprentices, for which see Colin and Mevel), but applied to adults in combinations such as un vilain crapaud, the term focuses on what is seen as the ugliness of the animal.


In the main, the associations with humans do not flatter birds, with a preponderance of terms evoking stupidity, eccentricity, cowardice, and ugliness: the vulture and the crow share more sinister auras. In spite of the importance of the dove as a symbol of peace, it has not featured very much in associations, other than the recent lexicalizations of the terms for 'dove' and 'hawk' (or, more frequently, 'falcon') to denote, on the one hand, pacifically inclined leaders, and on the other, those who adopt an aggressive stance: dove ~ hawk, colombe ~ faucon, Taube ~ Habicht, paloma ~ halcon, colomba ~ falco. As far from gentle birds, the hawk and the falcon provide an obvious contrast. An innocent young girl can be called a (blanche) colombe in literary French (similarly, young lovers are referred to as tourtereaux, 'young turtle doves'). The pigeon, although it resembles the dove physically (the two have the same name in German, Spanish, and Italian), does not share its aura in English and French, where pigeon is used in the sense of 'dupe, sucker'.

The eagle, an even more redoubtable bird of prey than the hawk and the falcon, was not chosen as the antithesis of the dove because it has long enjoyed favourable associations as a symbol of strength and power. Rather curiously, it is intelligence rather than strength that has been highlighted in expressions like ce n'est pas un aigle, meaning 'he's not very bright'; ser un aguila, 'to be a genius'; aquila, 'genius', and non e` un aquila, 'he's no genius'. English and German do not seem to have direct identifications of humans with eagles, and expressions like eagle-eyed relate to the bird's sight, not to its strength or intelligence.

English appears to be the only language that uses bird on its own in the colloquial sense of 'young woman' without any pejorative overtones. In Spanish, pajarito is applied to tiny people, but pajara denotes a loose or larcenous woman. Generally, the words for bird are used in derogatory combinations such as the synonymous queer/odd bird, drole d'oiseau and seltsamer Vogel, pajaro de cuenta, for 'nasty customer', and the equivalents of bird of ill omen. Dollybird for 'vacuous young woman' is purely figurative. The French niais ('naive person, fool') derives from a word for 'fledgling', but has lost all connection with its etymology.

Poultry Old hen denotes a fussy old woman, mother hen a woman who is devoted to children or others in her charge, chick a girl (commoner in American usage than British). In French, poule is applied to a tart, poule de luxe to a high-class one; a poule mouillee is a coward, a poulette ('pullet') can be a young girl, but poulet has come to designate a policeman, probably (according to Esnault) because of a popular etymology, from an Italian slang word pula. Poule in the senses of 'policeman' or 'the police' is less current, but presumably represents the original adaptation of the Italian word. Again according to Esnault, a washerwoman (now a largely extinct species?) is humorously called a poule d'eau. In German, Huhn is used as one of the many bird-names meaning 'fool', while, in Spanish, gallina means 'coward', but pollo can be applied to a youngster of either sex, or to a fool, like the Italian pollo.

Whereas the English capon and archaic French capon/caponne denote a coward, the names of the cockerel and the rooster are associated with sexuality and 'cockiness', for example, cock of the walk, reflecting dominance; le coq du village, and Hahn im Korb sein, relating more to sexual domination; el gallito del lugar, meaning 'top dog', and gallo, for 'young tough'; the Italian gallo, meaning 'lady-killer', and galletto, for 'bumptious young man'.

In English, old duck is applied fairly affectionately to an oldish woman, but a lame duck, like the French equivalent canard boiteux, is applied to a person of either sex who is in financial or other difficulties. In Spanish, pato means 'dull, boring person'. Goose, oie, Gans, and oca (and its diminutive form ochetta) are all used in the sense of '(feminine) fool'. Dinde and dindon are also applied to fools, female and male, respectively; in Austrian and Southern German, Pute, 'turkey' is used in the same sense as Gans.

The barn-owl Vieille chouette can mean 'eccentric old woman'.

The blackbird Un vilain/beau merle ('a nasty/fine blackbird') is a nasty person, while merle blanc is used in the same sort of sense as white crow, but can be applied to humans (for example, to a woman's 'dream man'); merlo and its diminutive merlotto designate a fool.

The buzzard Old buzzard is one of the terms applied in English to an unattractive older person, and, in French, buse can mean 'fool, simpleton'.

The canary Canary is sometimes applied to an informer ('he sings'); the French word serin is one of the many bird-names used in the sense of 'ninny, fool'.

The crane In colloquial French, a grue is a prostitute, allegedly from both tending to stand around on one leg.

The crow Old crow is applied to an unattractive or unpleasant old woman; corbeau, in French, is applied to a priest (because he dresses in black), to a person of ill omen, and to a writer of anonymous letters. In Italian, someone with 'the evil eye' is a cornacchia.

The cuckoo Cuckoo in the sense of 'fool' is somewhat archaic, but the expression a cuckoo in the nest is still used, as is the adjective cuckoo for 'crazy' or 'mad'. Etymologically, the French cocu derives from the Old French word for the cuckoo, and the English cuckold itself is a derivative of the French word. In German, Kuckucksei, 'cuckoo's egg', is a humorous term for an illegitimate child; in Italian, cucco, like the archaic English cuckoo, is used in the sense of 'fool, simpleton'.

The finch In German, Schmutzfink is used in a variety of figurative senses such as 'dirty old man', 'mucky pup', 'muck-raker', and others.

The linnet Linotte (and tete de linotte) are among the many bird-names that in French can mean '(female) fool'.

The magpie The English magpie and French pie are applied to people who chatter a lot, often irritatingly, whereas, in Italian, gazza is applied to a thief.

The owl A person addicted to the nocturnal hours is an owl or a night owl, whereas, in French, (vieux) hibou refers to a recluse, as does the Spanish buho; in German, Eule is applied to an ugly woman.

The parrot Perroquet is used in French slang to designate a barrister, presumably because he talks a lot, and also a plain-clothes policeman, whose reports are seen as verbiage. The Spanish loro can be applied to an eccentric old woman.

The partridge Perdreau is one of the slang names of the policeman, probably by synonymic relay from the more common poulet, a process that also led to the application of hirondelle to police on bicycles (swallows are speedier than chickens, and the cape worn by the men could spread out like wings), and then to other police.

The shrike The French pie-grieche is somewhat archaic in the sense of 'quarrelsome, ill-natured woman'.

The snipe According to Green, snipe is used in Ulster in the sense of 'someone with a long nose' (the snipe has a very long beak); the French becassine is applied to a naive country girl.

The stork French slang has used marabout in several senses, the most recent of which seems to be for 'Arab'.

The swallow As mentioned under partridge, French slang applies hirondelle to police; it is also applied to itinerant workers.

The vulture As already in Latin, vulture, vautour, Aasgeier, and Avvoltoio are applied to a rapacious person who seeks to profit from the misfortunes of others. In Spanish though, buitre has the less pejorative meaning of 'go-getter', presumably also because the vulture is always looking for prey. The English culture vulture humorously designates the person who avidly attends concerts and other offerings of high culture, but like highbrow, it is still slightly derogatory. There is an element of wordplay in the choice of vulture, as it rhymes with culture.

The woodcock Becasse is one of the many bird-names used to designate a fool.

Fish and Marine Life

Fish is applied pejoratively in combinations such as queer/odd fish, and in a slightly different sense, poor fish. However, big fish and the equivalent Spanish pez grande, and Italian pesce grosso are applied to important people, while small fry, the French menu fretin, and German kleine Fische designate people of no importance.

Shark, (7) requin, Hai/Haifisch, and tiburon, but apparently not the Italian squalo, are all applied to greedy, unscrupulous persons.

Unlike French, English is otherwise not rich in fish associations: an undersized person is a shrimp, and an old trout is one of the terms (along with old bat, old crow, and old buzzard) applied to eccentric or unpleasant older women. The word clam is sometimes applied to taciturn people.

French, in contrast, is rich in slang terms relating to sea creatures. Huitre and moule, very inactive creatures, are among the many terms designating the fool, though huitre is somewhat archaic in this sense, and now tends to be applied to the tight-lipped person. As stated above, maquereau is probably a popular etymology from Middle Dutch makelare, and in French slang, this piscatorial image has been extended to a variety of other fishes, including barbeau, brochet, and merlan, as well as more specialized deformations of such terms, such as barbe, broche, and poisse (an abbreviation of poisson). The link with marine life has extended to the names of the prostitutes on whom the pimps depend, with crevette and langouste. In French Navy slang, a marsouin is a marine (the term is sometimes extended to cover other naval personnel). The fact that marsouin and marin begin with the same syllable may have influenced the choice of the former as a nickname. The use of homard as a name for the Englishman is now archaic, since it is a long time since the days of the 'redcoat'. Also somewhat archaic is the application of merlan to a hairdresser, from the days when work involved powdering wigs (compare the survival in Spanish of peluqueria for 'hairdresser's'), and getting covered with powder, like a whiting ready to be fried in flour.

The Spanish besugo is used in the sense of 'fool', for no obvious reason, since although fish may well be regarded as unintelligent, the choice of the bream is hardly self-evident, while in Italian balena designates a fat woman (the Spanish simile parece una ballena is used in a similar way).

As I have shown, several associations with animals go back to classical times, and some others are drawn from the Bible and Christian symbolism; occasionally, literary sources may have played a role, though it seems that the reputation of the fox as a cunning creature did not have to wait for the stories of Reynard the Fox. Two of the few favourable associations, involving the dove and the lamb, have their origins in Christian symbolism, and it seems likely that the identification of the snake with treachery goes back to the role of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. These associations are of considerable antiquity, and are generally very stable (the use of chien in the sense of 'scoundrel', once current in French, has however fallen into disuse). Many other associations are relatively ephemeral, as can be seen in the frequent references in dictionary entries to their obsolescence, or, in the slang dictionaries of Partridge, and Green, to the specific periods and areas in which they were current. The majority are the fruit of popular humour, cynicism, and wordplay. They are mainly derogatory in tone. Although, as we have seen in a number of cases, terms that are normally insulting (beast, grosse bete, and chameau, for example) can be used as terms of endearment in appropriate contexts, often ones involving children, through antiphrasis. This is of course not something that is restricted to animal metaphors, as when a child is addressed fondly as a little horror. References to children such as little mites, or as, in French, morpions, moucherons, or tetards are also basically antiphrastic and hyperbolic in nature: the emphasis is on size, not nastiness.

Wordplay appears to be more prevalent in French colloquial speech and slang than in English or the other languages, though my impression may be partly due an insufficient familiarity with the relevant registers of German, Spanish, and Italian. See the popular etymology in, for example, the French maquereau, poulet, and cigogne; synonymic relay, for example, in the extension of maquereau to other fish-names; punning, in cloporte from clot porte; or the humorous distortion of sergent from serpent. English could be said to have examples of synonymic relay in its extension of pejorative senses to other dog-names (cur, mongrel, hound, and tyke); it also has some examples of word-rhyme in the cases of eager beaver and culture vulture.

Certain animal names (those of the donkey, the pig, the dog, the cow, the wolf, the snake, the rat, the shark, and the vulture) are almost always used in a pejorative way. Possible exceptions involving the dog and the wolf are combinations such as (old) sea dog, young dog, gay dog, top dog, newshound, and bloodhound (the latter having been calqued in some of the other languages, where criticism is masked by a suggestion of reluctant admiration, or by recognition in the last two cases, of the quality of persistence of a hound pursuing a trail). There are comparable references to the wolf in the French loup de mer and its other Romance equivalents, or in jeune loup for 'ambitious and thrusting young man', a sense that is, again atypically, attached to the Spanish buitre.

Sometimes, the same animal or insect has inspired both favourable and unfavourable associations, mirroring different aspects of the creature's behaviour. In the case of the cat, its tendency to turn unexpectedly on its human friends has led to its name being linked to spite and duplicity, whereas the term pussycat, although still somewhat derogatory, reflects a more amiable side. The timidity of some cats has inspired scaredy-cat, while the charm and playfulness of the kitten find expression in the use of kitten and sex-kitten, or the German, Katzchen, in the sense of 'girl'. In French, the application of mouche/mouchard to the 'spy' and especially the 'informer' is inspired by the inquisitive nature of the insect, and fine mouche, 'canny, subtle person', by its watchfulness and persistence, whereas the Spanish mosca for 'bore' is perhaps due to its lengthy and irritating buzz. The colloquial English adjective fly, 'knowing, or canny', which may derive from the name of the insect (SOED), seems to have followed a development similar to that of the French word. The image of the hen scratching around busily inspires the term 'old hen', while that of it with its chicks has suggested the more favourable reference to the mother hen and mere poule.

Observation of the behaviour of the more familiar animals, allied to traditional ideas about more exotic ones such as the shark and the vulture, have led to many similarities between the images found in the different languages: dirty, greedy people are pigs, grumpy ones are usually bears, cowards tend to be rabbits or hens, while the rooster often symbolizes a cocky or sexually active man, and lechers are represented by goats or rams. Given the sameness of human nature and the close cultural links between the societies of Western Europe, that is not surprising.

Nevertheless, there are quite a lot of differences at the level of detail, since each language has created associations that are unique to it. The names of the stag, for instance, have inspired quite different associations in English, French, and German. English appears to be the only one to use associations with the bat, the gadfly, the limpet, the nit, the runt, the skunk, and the trout. It is the only one using the term for 'bird' in a non-pejorative way, and it seems to be richer in its use of words relating to dogs (dog, dirty dog, top dog, bitch, pup/puppy, cur, tyke, mongrel, newshound, and bloodhound). To a lesser degree, it is richer in the terms relating to the cat and the pig. On the other hand, it makes no use of associations with the camel, which are common to the other languages. French appears to be much richer than any of the other languages in its use of bird and fish names, many of which seem to be unique to it, partly, but not wholly as a result of the workings of synonymic relay. It seems to be the only language using associations with the oyster and the mussel, or in the insect world, with the bug, the cockroach, the crab-louse, the flea, and the woodlouse. The German use of Biene and Schmutzfink for 'mucky person' is unique to it, as is the association of the monkey with stupidity, rather than, as elsewhere, with mischievousness, artfulness, or ugliness. Terms represented only in Spanish include the names of the beetle, the bream, and the maggot, while Italian refers to the mosquito and the whale. Many of these, particularly those referring to insects, merely represent variant expressions of the basic dislike of a species.

What differences can one observe between the Romance and Germanic groups? The main one seems to be the greater number of associations with birds in the Romance languages than in the two Germanic ones, balanced by a slightly richer use of dog and pig associations in the latter. The two Germanic languages refer to bookworms where the Romance ones see 'bookworms' as rodents (for example, rat de bibliotheque). The general impression is that the number of associations with animals is greater in the Romance languages, especially French (though this is partly due to my greater familiarity with the latter than with Spanish and Italian), rich as the Germanic languages may be in other types of metaphorical creation.

Nevertheless, the number of examples of the animal-human images in all the languages concerned is very large at every stylistic level, illustrating both a permanent human interest in the animal world and the anthropomorphic cast of the human mind. It is noticeable, but understandable, that the figurative application of animal names to humans is much more significant than that involving inanimates (though examples of the latter do occur, as in the pejorative use in English of clod/ clot, (great) lump, and noodle (though SOED describes the word as being of unknown origin), the similar German Klotz, 'great lump of a person', or the French nouille and nave/naveton for 'fool', derived from a little-admired vegetable, the navet).

What roles do the animal metaphors play? I agree with Lakoff and Johnson when they argue that metaphor, far from being a rhetorical embellishment to language, is a fundamental element of it, in so far as our conceptual systems, and therefore our thought processes, are largely based on metaphor. (8) Our abstractions certainly seem to have started through figurative reference to the concrete, although it is not as clear as it might be to what degree experience created the thought processes, and thought processes the metaphors, or vice versa. (9) The point to be retained with regard to the animal associations dealt with here, however, is that they are not abstract. Most of them certainly came into being as the result of human observation of animal behaviour, that is, experience.

The principal difference between, on the one hand, the important metaphorical networks based (for instance) on oppositions between upper and lower, forward and rear, big and little, or hot and cold, and on the other, associations between people and the characteristics of particular animals, is that the former are so embedded in our thought processes that we are not normally conscious that we are using metaphors, whereas our use of animal terms is something that we are aware of, and therefore is, in a broad sense, rhetorical. For instance, if a journalist writes about 'a sharp attack on the opposition's views on progressive education', he or she is probably not aware of using a whole series of living or dead metaphors, whereas those who described the British soldiers of the First World War as 'lions led by donkeys' were quite aware that their references to these animals were figurative.

The animal metaphors dealt with here therefore have a less central function than some in our thought processes, but still play an important role at an emotional and subjective level: their use is often humorous, sometimes affectionate, sometimes, as in the case of words like dove, symbolic, but perhaps most often, abusive, expressing dislike or contempt. Some have been current for so long that they have probably affected our reaction to certain animals, for instance, the pig and the wolf; others owe a more ephemeral existence to various kinds of wordplay rather than to the present or past observation of nature that has inspired most of the associations.

(1) See Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1958) under canis, feles, leo, vulpis, and vulturius. It is significant that vulpis has the transferred sense of 'craftiness', showing that the fox was already seen as the epitome of cunning. The Latin application of the word lupa to the prostitute is not mirrored in the modern languages, although the use of Spanish leona in that sense could be seen as a parallel choice based on the idea of a ferocious female animal.

(2) The other dictionaries consulted are: The Oxford Dictionary of Slang, ed. by John Ayto and John Simpson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Dictionnaire de l'argot, ed. by J.-P. Colin and J.-P. Mevel (Paris: Larousse, 1990); Collins-Robert French Dictionary: French-English, English-French, ed. by Beryl T. Atkins and others (Glasgow, Cleveland, OH, and Toronto: HarperCollins, 1978), hereafter, Collins-Robert; The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, ed. by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951), hereafter, COED; Collins German Dictionary: German-English, English-German, ed. by Peter Terrell and others (London and Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1980), hereafter Collins Ger.; Collins Sansoni Italian Dictionary: Italian-English, English-Italian, ed. by Vladimiro Macchi and the Centro Lessicografico Sansoni, 2nd edn (London and Glasgow: HarperCollins; Firenze: Sansoni, 1981), hereafter Collins-Sansoni; Collins Spanish Dictionary: Spanish--English, English-Spanish, ed. by Colin Smith and others, 2nd edn (London, Glasgow, and Toronto: HarperCollins, 1988), hereafter Collins Sp.; Dictionnaire historique des argots francais, ed. by G. Esnault (Paris: Larousse, 1965); The Cassell Dictionary of Slang, ed. by Jonathon Green (London: Cassell, 1988); L'Argot tel qu'on le parle, R. Guiraud (Paris: Jacques Grancher, 1981); Harrap's New Standard French and English Dictionary, ed. by J. E. Mansion (D. M. Ledesert and R. P. Ledesert, revised edn, 1972-80); Langenscheidt Encyclopaedic Muret-Sanders German Dictionary, 2 vols (Berlin, Munich, and Vienna: Langenscheidt, Vol. I, 5th edn, 1990, Vol. II, 6th edn, 1992), hereafter Muret-Sanders; Dictionnaire de l'argot moderne, G. Sandry, and M. Carrere, 6th edn (Paris: Aux Quais de Paris, 1964); Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ed. by C. T. Onions, 3rd edn (London: Oxford University Press, 1983), hereafter SOED; and W. von Wartburg, Franzosisches etymologisches Worterbuch, Vols I-III (Leipzig: Teubner, 1922).

(3) One usually applies this term to a child, and it is more jocular and less serious; the French feminine form cochonne, when applied to young female children, is jocular, and the Italian porcellino is also more affectionate than condemnatory in tone.

(4) Letzeburgisch, the German dialect of Luxembourg, follows a pattern similar to English in distinguishing between Giss, 'pig', or 'dirty person', and Schwein, 'pig', or (figurative) 'swine, dirty dog'. The diminutive Gissi 'little pig' is applied to a child who has made a mess, but the term is affectionate in tenor.

(5) Only etymologically recognizable as meaning 'sheep', since its use has been purely figurative since the seventeenth century.

(6) Caballo also designates a knight in chess, and it is possible that the associated idea of a 'white knight' has provided the basis for the metaphor.

(7) The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary states that a link between this shark and the fish 'has not been made out', but does not suggest any other etymology. Given the reputation of the shark as a predator and its metaphorical use in several languages, it is difficult to see why the SOED is unwilling to make the connection.

(8) In G. Lakoff and M. Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980), Chapter 1 and elsewhere.

(9) See my Ups and Downs in Semantics: an Inaugural Lecture (London: Bedford College, 1982), for some discussion of the roles of nature and nurture in the formation of metaphorical networks.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Modern Humanities Research Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:animal names applied to humans
Author:Spence, N.C.W.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Previous Article:The Poetry of Luis Cernuda: Order in a World of Chaos.
Next Article:A new fragment of Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters