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.
About the author
Dagmar Schmauks (b. 1950) is a supernumerary professor at the Technical University of Berlin 〈email@example.com〉. Her research interests include pragmatics, man-animal-relationship, and orientation in space. Her publications include Multimediale Informationspräsentation am Beispiel von Wetterberichten (1996); Orientierung im Raum. Zeichen für die Fortbewegung (2002); Semiotische Streifzüge (2007); and Denkdiäten, Flachflieger und geistige Stromsparlampen (2009).
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