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Wordy Weekly XXVII

We continue the biology/animal flavour this week.

We start with Latin this week.


I remember getting very cross when my Scrabble App wouldn’t allow me to use the word ovine, and then my opponent got away with a country name.

Anyway, anecdotes aside, these all come from the Latin for the animal whose family they refer to. They all mean ‘belonging to the [whichever animal type] family’ but can also be used as adjectives which mean ‘like x animal’. This is by no means an exhaustive list. So, here goes.

Family Latin animal name Adjective Meaning

BOVINE cattle bos, bovis cow-like, gentle, or stupid

CANINE dog canis canis dog-like, e.g., canine teeth

EQUINE horse equus, equi* equine features, long,

horse-like (face)

OVINE sheep ovis, ovis sheep-like (hmm, you don’t

see this one that often.

Don’t think it is particularly flattering. A woolly concept, perhaps? DOH!

VULPINE fox vulpes, vulpis canny, dishonest,

“Oh, vulpine lady!” (okay, that doesn’t work)

LEPORINE hare/rabbit lepor, leporis (hare) hare-like (hare-

raising? Never mind!)

PORCINE pig porcus, porci like a pig, pig-like features

AQUILINE eagle aquila, aquilae like an eagle, e.g., aquiline


ASININE ass/donkey asinus, asini stupid, dim*2

CAPRINE goat caper, capri/capra, caprae like a goat*3

FELINE cat felis, felis like a cat, alluring

Nina Simone liked cats because she was 'Feline Good'. (Or not!)

ANSERINE goose anser, anseris goose-like (rare)*4

CERVINE deer cervus, cervi deer-like

Does that mean a-cervine is no i-deer? (back to the drawing board)

LEONINE lion leo, leonis lion-like, strong

CORVINE crow/raven corvus, corvi*5 crow-like, especially colour

*Very amusingly, a bright Latin student of mine once got eques and equus confused, so the young solider was Roman horse. Actually, he was a Roman knight/horseman.

*2 Those familiar with the Oxford Latin Course will remember the favoured insult of Quintus, ‘asinus es’ – you’re an ass, i.e., you’re dumb. I suppose that may be where DUMBASS comes from? Maybe?

Further funny fact. A friend of mine at University, a highly capable student, once got ‘rex Asianorum’ (actually in the translation) with ‘grex asinorum’. The King of the Asians became a herd of asses. Oops!

*3 A favourite Cryptic Crossword clue of my husband’s is: ‘Highly capricious bounder’ (8,4).

Mountain Goat

*4 Great (possibly mythical) fact -geese saved Rome. No, I am not mad. When the Gauls were on the verge of sacking the Capitol in 390 BC, the sacred geese honked loudly alerting the Romans to their presence. The poor Gauls, they tried to catch them, but ended up on a wild goose chase…No? Okay!

*5 Fun fact – the Romans invented a ‘boarding bridge’ by which to board enemy ships in a sea-battle. It was called the CORVUS because of its resemblance to a crow’s beak. Cool, huh?

So, after that Latin and random fact overkill, just one Greek this week.

“A bold HIPPOPOTAMUS was standing one day…’ (okay, Flanders and Swann are next week).

HIPPOPOTAMUS: ‘horse of the river’. I know, they look nothing like a horse, but trust me that’s what the name means.

ἵππος (hippos) - horse

ποταμος (potamos) - river

Sticking with the Greek for horse, what were the EOHIPPUS, MIOHIPPUS, MERYCHIPPUS? Early horses.

EO-HIPPUS - dawn horse (early horse)

ἠώς (dawn) + ἵππος

MIO-HIPPUS - small/lesser horse

μείων + ἵππος

MERYCHIPPUS - ruminating horse

μηρυξ + ἵππος

(in Greek, used of a fish)

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