12 animal adjectives to bolster your vocabulary

12 animal adjectives to bolster your vocabulary

by Judith B Herman

In eighth grade, when I read that Julius Caesar had an aquiline nose, I mistakenly thought it had something to do with water. But aquiline is from Latin aquila, meaning eagle, not aqua, water. He had a curved, beaklike nose, not a runny one.

You know some other animal adjectives ending in -ine: feline (catlike), canine (doggy), and bovine (cow like). How many more are there? A herd, a flock, a whole bunch. Here’s a dozen.

Joseph Sheridan Le Faun managed to use the erudite term in The Tenants of Malory. “Her beautiful eyebrows wore that anguine curve, which is the only approach to a scowl which painters accord to angels.” The word means snakelike, from Latin anguis, snake.

Here’s a perfect description of a hostile-take-over artist: buteonine, resembling a buzzard (from Latin būteōn-em, hawk or buzzard).

Delphine is an obsolete adjective referring to the dolphin (from Old French dauphin, from Provençal dalfin, from Latin delphinus, from Greek delphin).

Didelphine does not refer to a double dolphin, but a double uterus. It’s a variant of didelphian (from modern Latin Didelphia, from Greek di-, twice + delphos, womb) and refers to a subclass of marsupials including opossums.

If your hippocampi are functioning properly, you may remember that hippocampus refers to the elongated ridges on the floor of each lateral ventricle of the brain that play a central role in memory. The hippocampi are named for their resemblance to seahorses (from late Latin, from Greek hippokampos, from hippos ‘horse’ + kampos ‘sea monster’).

Hippocampus, or seahorse, originally referred to mythological creatures having two forefeet, and a body ending in the tail of a dolphin or fish, represented as drawing the carriage of Neptune. Now both terms refer to a genus of small fishes you sometimes see in aquariums. Oh, and “hippocampine” is a rarely used adjective relating to seahorses.

If you want to call someone sluggish (or worse, slimy) in a more elegant fashion, you could call them limacine, meaning “of, relating to, or resembling a slug; akin to līmus, slime.”

If you have a smattering of Latin or Greek, you can guess, correctly, that the stem “macropod-” means “big foot,” but macropodine refers not to Sasquatch, but to kangaroos or wallabies.

If you’d like to say, ever so discreetly, that something stinks, you could say it’s mephitine, or skunk-like. The word seems to have been coined from mephitis (from classical Latin mefītis, mephītis an exhalation of sulfurated water or gas, also personified, as the name of the goddess of exhalations), but it doesn’t appear in standard dictionaries or even in Google Books.

This adjective has nothing to do with eye drops. It means relating to a mouse or mice (from Latin murinus, from mus, mur- “mouse.”)

If people are sneaky, you might describe them as musteline, or weasely. The word originates from classical Latin mustēlīnus, of or belonging to a weasel, and from mustēla (also mustella) weasel, of uncertain origin (perhaps related to mūs, mouse).

A graceful swimmer might be called phocine, which means resembling a seal, from the genus name phoca, from classical Latin phōca, or seal.

Picine, meaning like a woodpecker (from the genus name assigned by Linnaeus, from classical Latin pīcus, woodpecker) is not to be confused with piscine, of or relating to fishes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s