Some Words I Love: Animal Adjectives

Paul R. Potts

You might know the word bovine. It means “coming from a cow,” or “related to a cow,” or “affecting cows,” or, more commonly, just “like a cow.”

You almost certainly know the words canine (dog-like), and feline (cat-like), but do you know all these animal adjectives?

There are a lot more. Some of these are uncommonly used.

Then there are some animal words that don’t end in “-ine” but in “-ian” instead:

There are more — far more. As for animal-related words that aren’t adjectives — you probably know what an aviary is, but how about an apiary? (And the word avian, as opposed to apian). What about hirsute? And don’t get me started on collective nouns (prides of lions, parliaments of owls, and all those delightful words!)

The Doctor Who episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp” just supplied me with another word: vespiform. It was apparently a fairly obscure word before it became the name of a fictional alien race. It means, naturally, “wasp-shaped,” while vespine means “like a hornet or wasp.”

If you want to find more, there are collections of these words online; folks have assembled pages listing hundreds of them. Google “animal adjectives.” It’s a good way to learn a little Latin and Greek!

Ann Arbor, Michigan
March 30, 2007

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