5 Animals That Inspire Canine Connotations

By Mark Nichol

The characteristics of canids have long been applied to characterize humans, as this discussion of words and expressions based on the names of various canine species demonstrates.

1. Coyote

A slang term for a person who guides illegal immigrants into the United States (usually from Mexico), rather than a term based on behavior, coyote nevertheless suggests at best a person who profits from the desperation of others and at worst cheats or misleads his or her clients or endangers their lives.

2. Dog

Dog is an insult comparing a person to the animal in terms of its worst characteristics, such as laziness or groveling, though it may also indicate (perhaps grudging) admiration, as in the statement “You lucky dog.” To go to the dogs is to decline in health or condition; to hot-dog is to show off. Somebody who puts on the dog affects stylishness or sophistication. Dogged describes stubborn determination, but dog-eat-dog behavior is treacherous behavior, suggesting the members of a pack of dogs turning on each other.

Hound, a term for a particular class of dog bred for hunting, is sometimes used to label an unpleasant person, although the term may also apply to someone who doggedly pursues something, as in chowhound for a person avid about eating.

3. Fox

Foxy enjoyed a brief heyday as an adjective to describe sexual attractiveness, but it has had a much longer tradition in the sense of “cunning, crafty.” To say that someone is crazy like a fox, meanwhile, means that the person is craftily feigning insanity to some end.

4. Jackal

Someone who serves another menially or to unsavory ends, or abases oneself, is sometimes referred to as a jackal.

5. Wolf

Lecherous or sexually aggressive behavior in men is often compared to the predatory nature of a wolf.

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4 Responses to “5 Animals That Inspire Canine Connotations”

  • Laura C

    What an interesting post! Do you have one for felines too? I hear “cougar” all the time, so are there also other expressions related to cats/felines?

  • Stephen Thorn

    How could you have forgotten the most prevalent one in modern usage: the B word (rhymes with witch)? Cllinical reference is a female canid but in slang terms it is a disparaging term for a woman, and in modern slang has come to mean “to gripe or complain” as well as other usages (including some more positive ones).

    One may doggedly (stubbornly) pursue a goal; a rodeo rider “bulldogs” a calf (ropes and ties it); and there have been instances of “the tail wagging the dog.” “When Man bites Dog” is a term referring to a highly unusual and noteworthy occurance, “I wouldn’t send a dog out on a night like this” is an expression denoting foul weather, and so on and on and on.

  • Jon

    Drifting away slightly from the name of the particular canid there are a few more of course.

    Possibly archaic is “young pup“, an informal, chiefly British English, somewhat contemptuous term for a conceited young man, (to paraphrase thefreedictionary).

    Then there are “puppydog eyes” – a mournfully wide-eyed, sad expression aimed at getting one’s own way.

  • Sally

    Re ‘Coyote’ – In certain Native American cultures, I believe that the coyote is a Trickster Who Teaches Wisdom. So perhaps its modern pejorative use is simply a put-down of non-whites.

    Re ‘Dog’ – There’s also “Not fit for a dog = absolutely abysmal,” “The weather’s so bad I wouldn’t send a dog out in it,” and “to work like a dog (extremely hard).”

    “A dog’s life” can be either bad or, by transference, good

    In Australia we used to talk of “dogs’ disease = a cold with bad coughing” and say that something’s “so crook (bad) that it would kill a brown / roan dog.”

    ‘Hound’ was often used for a disreputable person.

    A ‘dingo’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dingo) was a ‘coward,’ as was a ‘hyena’ (though the latter also added a connotation of furtiveness and parasitism).

    Re ‘Wolf’ – One still talks of people “wolfing down their food,” or of being “lone wolves.

    It would be interesting to note, in those languages that mark grammatical gender, what gender is assigned to each of these terms (or whether there might be a masculine and a feminine form).

    And, Laura C, I’d like to see what Mark comes up with there too!

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