OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Next post: Are Chinese characters pictures?

dictionary_critical_theory Previous Post: International Women's Day

There’s nothing fishy about animal words

MouseThe English language is swarming with animal words. It seems that almost every common animal in our midst has attached its name to some verb or noun. One can be dogged in the pursuit of something, and pig out when one has got it. You can snake through to get somewhere, and horse around when you get there.

But in addition to this menagerie of obvious beastie words, there are hundreds more that have derived from an animal root in a way that is not so obvious. Both the canaille (the common people) and feisty have their beginnings in words for “dogs”—feisty from a Middle English origin, and canaille from an Italian word for “pack of dogs.”

And aspic, that odd jelly that some people find edible, has a snake (asp) at its root, as does the word tang (meaning “a strong taste”). English is even infested with vermin (which comes from the Latin word for “worm”, as does the pasta vermicelli)—the word muscle is from the Latin word for “mouse”, as it was believed that the movement of some muscles resembled that of a mouse.