While I can’t talk to animals like Dr. Doolittle did in the 1967 film, I certainly can. This time, we’ll be looking at all kinds of animal-related words, especially their fancy adjectives and the terms that describe them when they come together.
The first is “avin”, a variant of “avian”, which means “relating to or derived from birds”. Specifically, “aquiline” relates to eagles, while “falconine” relates to (you guessed it) hawks.
When it comes to some of our most commonly seen birds, “covine” means “like a raven or a crow – especially in color”. By the way, a group of crows is known as “wickedness”, while a gathering of crows is known as “murder” as long as there are at least three. Which reminds me of my favorite joke: if three crows is murder, two crows must be “attempted murder.”
To distinguish them from terns, gulls (whose groups are called “colonies”) are called “larin”, which, when capitalized, is also a female name of Spanish origin meaning “little queen”.
When on the ground, a group of geese is called a “gaggle”. In flight, they are a “skein” or a “wedge”. Wherever they are, they are called “ansérines”, an adjective that also applies to people who behave in a stupid, senseless or idiotic way.
When it comes to ducks, some people make a distinction between ducks in general – groups they call a “paddle”, “team” or “hug” – and mallards in particular, which appear to be a group called “sord”. » or a « sute ». But my favorite collective term for them is “raft”, which is “a large group of floating ducks”.
Just below these floating ducks are fish swimming in a group called a “school” or “shoal” (both words evolved from “schole”, a Dutch word meaning “a troop or crowd”). Their adjective is “pool”, which also gives us the name of one of our astrological signs. More on that later.
Now let’s look at some domesticated animals, which means they have adapted to “life in close association with and for the benefit of humans”. The most suitable are, of course, dogs and cats, whose respective adjectives — “canine” and “feline” — are also nouns.
Some cats are feral (“ferine” is the adjective for any wild animal) and can live in groups with names like “clowder” and “glaring”. A group of kittens is called a “kindle”.
On the farm there are “equine” horses and “donkeys” donkeys, whose stubborn adjective also applies to many people. Another unfortunate adjective is “piggy”, which Merriam-Webster defines as “resembling a pig or pigs”. Although pork isn’t as bad as pork, it can describe things that are greasy, greedy, insistent, or generally porky – but mostly greasy.
While “bovine” means “cow” in Latin, the biological family called “bovidae” actually includes bison, oxen, sheep, and goats. This fact allows me to make the smooth transition to goats, called “caprines”, which, in turn, give us the astrological sign Capricorn.
“Taurine” refers to bulls and, of course, gives us the sign of Taurus. (It’s also an amino acid found in Red Bull drink.) The other three signs that come from animal names are: Leo (the lion, from “leonine”), Cancer (the crab, from “canerine”) and Aries, (which is Latin for “ram”).
And for you Tom Brady fans, in case you were wondering what sign he is, he is do not a Capricorn. It’s true, the GOAT isn’t a goat – he’s a Leo, but I can’t imagine him playing for the Lions.
Lewiston’s Jim Witherell is a writer and lover of words whose works include ‘LL Bean: The Man and His Company’ and ‘Ed Muskie: Made in Maine’. He can be reached at [email protected]