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Animalogy \ The Animals in Our Everyday Words & Phrases
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Author
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We have many words built from the English word for "bear," the Latin word for "bear," and the Greek word for "bear," and we have many expressions and phrases built from the same ursine animal. Of course there are also expressions using the verb "to bear," as in "to carry," such as in "bearing fruit, bearing a child, or bearing a burden or a grudge. Let's explore the origins of all of these.
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In a pivotal scene in David Lynch’s film, The Elephant Man, the main character turns on those who are cruelly taunting him and declares “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I...am...a man.” The crowd disperses. Ever since the first time I saw this movie, I’ve had the same reaction. As a sympathetic viewer, I’m relieved that Merrick decries his abusers, but in making a claim for the dignity he deserves as a man, the implication is that the abuse would be acceptable if he were “an animal.” And yet, human and non-human, we are all animals. We are all made of the same stuff, evident even in the word “animal,” whose root word means “soul.”
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If I asked you to name some cities and countries named after animals, how many could you come up with? You might think of obvious ones, such as Buffalo NY; Beaver, UY; White Horse, NJ; or Eagle River in Ontario; or Weston-Under-Lizard near Birmingham in the UK. But what about cities and countries around the world whose animal origins are much less apparent? Join me today as we explore our connection with animals through geographical locations inspired by animals.
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"Piggyback" has nothing to do with pigs! In fact, there are many seemingly animal-related words and phrases in the English language that have nothing to do with animals at all! In today’s episode, I offer up the backstory to words such as piggyback, monkey wrench, round robin, and spelling bee.
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By now you would have listened to the Animalogy episodes about the words muscle, coccyx, and tragus — all parts of our body. All words from animals. Today, we have an entire episode on a number of other terms for parts of our anatomy that have animals hiding within. These and many more reflect how deeply rooted animals are in our consciousness, in our history, in our lives — and deep in our animal bones.
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The word meat goes back at least as far as 731 AD, but it didn't mean then what it does today. Its meaning was much broader. Understanding the history and evolution of the word can go a long way in normalizing plant-based meats and eschewing the derogatory qualifiers: “fake,” “faux,” “alternative,” “imitation,” “mock,” “replacement,” “analog,” or “substitute." Words matter.
Whereas the word veal in English simply means “flesh of a calf” and pork in English means “flesh of a pig used as food,” hidden in many of the Anglo-Saxon/Old English and Proto-Indo-European words for the living animals are clues about the physical, behavioral, or vocal characteristics of the living animals, reflecting a tendency to name animals based on typical attributes or activities.
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Roughly 10,000 new words entered the English language during the Norman occupation and assimilation, particularly those having to do with the world of the ruling class. The effects of the linguistic class division are most apparent in the culinary realm, where words used by the aristocracy have French origins and words used by the commoners have Germanic origins. This is evident even today in the way we talk about certain animals, particularly those typically eaten by Westerners, with words rooted in Anglo-Saxon / Old English to indicate the living animals and words rooted in Old French to indicate the slaughtered animal as flesh for consumption.
Have you ever been "fleeced"? Have you ever "gone in search of the golden fleece" or "pulled the wool over someone's eyes"? Are your opinions "dyed in the wool"? In today's episode of Animalogy, I discuss the animal origins of these words and expressions, all of which have to do with the hair of sheep. In other words, they're Animalogies!
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