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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton February 15, 2014

Curs, crabs, and cranky cows: Ethological and linguistic aspects of animal-based insults

Dagmar Schmauks
From the journal Semiotica


Our attitude towards animals is highly inconsistent. Linguistic evidence of this is the many animal names that we use for characterizing other humans. Although terms like “beastly” draw a clear dividing line between mankind and the animal kingdom, we also see numerous similarities across species and coin expressions such as “eagle eyes” or “ostrich policy.” A treasure trove for such comparisons can be found in animal-based insults with which we mock the appearance or behavior of others. Based on English and German examples, this contribution intends to give some ethological reasons for the fact that we choose specific animals for insulting humans. As this topic has not yet been widely explored, the result can only be a general overview, combining ethological and linguistic aspects. There are many expressions preferably used in “joshing,” but the never-ending creation of new expressions is proof of human creativity.

Published Online: 2014-2-15
Published in Print: 2014-2-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston