Animalia: Some Words That Derive from Animal Names

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

The Canary Islands, one would imagine, were overrun with canaries. But, no, they were overrun with wild dogs, or canes in Latin. The birds were named for the islands.

Capricious comes from the Italian word for “goat”: capro. A Roman goat was a caper. Goats are often playful and somewhat unpredictable. They can be capricious. In certain moods, they can cut capers, another derivative.

A burrito is literally a little donkey, from burricus, a small horse in Latin. I suppose because of its shape.

Vaccine comes from the Latin word for “cow,” vacca, because the vaccine for smallpox came from the pus of cowpox lesions.

The Latin word avis, which means “bird,” gave us aviator, aviation, and aviatrix, and other flying words.

A Greek bear was an arktos. The English derivative arctic refers not to the polar bear but to the Great Bear constellation, called Ursa Major in Latin, and long referred to the northern sky before it applied to the terrestrial north.

Ursa gives us ursine, meaning “bear-like,” like the creature in the photo above. A person might also be ursine — big, hairy, and lumbering. Can you think of a good example?

Many other –ine words derive from Roman animals: ovine, porcine, cervine, equine, canine, feline, leonine, asinine, aquiline, lupine, and corvine, for example. Guess what animals these words refer to, and see below* for the answers.  

Finally, animal itself derives from the Latin anima, the word for breath, life, or spirit. Animals are living beings. To animate is to bring something to life. Like Mickey Mouse. Or Goofy.

*In order, sheeplike, piglike, deerlike, horse-like, doglike, catlike, lion-like, ass-like, eagle-like, wolflike, and crow-like. 

How-dja do?

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8 Responses to Animalia: Some Words That Derive from Animal Names

  1. Kathy says:

    So nice to see your name here! Thanks, Carol!

  2. Kathy says:

    Not much opportunity to describe someone/something with these words. Your vocabulary is probably unimpeachable.

  3. Kathy says:

    You’re welcome! Thanks for playing!

  4. Kathy says:

    Pretty good percentage!

  5. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Missed eagle and crow

  6. Roger Talbott says:

    Knew porcine,canine, feline, equine, leonine, guessed (correctly) at asinine, got lupine (thanks J.K. Rowling). Always thought “aquiline’ refereed to a Roman nose, guess I wasn’t too far off. Now I’m left wondering how the canaries coexisted with the canines. Fun! Thank you.

  7. Sarah Becker says:

    From the screenplay of Stand by Me:
    Mickey is a mouse, Donald is a duck, Pluto is a dog. What’s Goofy…?
    Good question!
    I missed deerlike, eagle-like, and crow-like. 73%: needs improvement!

  8. Carol Gwirtz says:

    I look forward to your messages and enjoy every one! Keep writing and sending, Kathy. Best regards,
    Carol Gwirtz

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