50+ Words That Describe Animals (Including Humans)

By Mark Nichol

As much as many humans have tried to deny, or have conveniently ignored, that Homo sapiens is just another species of fauna, writers readily use animals or their (sometimes supposed) characteristics to describe people. Words like catty, dogged, foxy, and slothful all attest to the vivid imagery that easily arises when we compare people to various other species.

In addition, we speak and write of somebody eating like a bird (to refer to light gustatory habits, though many birds seem downright voracious if you watch them dining), drinking like a fish, or behaving like a bull in a china shop. Some idioms, however, contradict each other, such as “Work like a dog” and “(living) a dog’s life.”

Simple adjectives such as those in the first paragraph are more useful for narrative descriptions of people than the idiomatic phrases just above, but Latinate terms for animals can be even more helpful in describing people.

Among the examples below, some, such as those for references to dogs (“canine loyalty”) and cats (“feline grace”), are perhaps too ubiquitous to be effective. Asinine, on the other hand, is more recognizable as a term to describe a human characteristic than in its original usage (in this case, to refer to a donkey), which might spoil it for literary allusion. Yet others, such as anguine, a word for a snake, may be too obscure to be helpful (though its synonyms serpentine and viperine are rich in descriptive force).

And how about using taurine to describe a glowering bruiser, or lupine for a predatory lothario, or vulpine for a cunning schemer? You might even go out on an evolutionary limb and use pavonine to refer to a male fashion plate. (Your readers can always look it up.)

Alternatively, give your humorous novel a Dickensian flair with a rapacious Mr. Selachian, a harridan named Mrs. Soricine, or a prickly or sharp-tongued person dubbed Miss Hystricine or Master Vespa. If nothing else, simply employ the terms below as inspirations for drawing, in words, your fictional characters or nonfictional subjects:

  1. acciptrine (falcon, hawk)
  2. anatine, anserine (goose)
  3. anguine, colubrine, elapine, serpentine, viperine (snake)
  4. apic, apian, apiarian (bee)
  5. aquiline (eagle)
  6. arachnine, arachnoid (spider)
  7. asinine (donkey)
  8. batrachian, ranine (frog, toad)
  9. bovine (cow, bison)
  10. cancrine (crab)
  11. canine (dog)
  12. caprine (goat)
  13. cervine (deer, elk, moose)
  14. cetacean, cetaceous (whale)
  15. corvine (crow)
  16. cygnine (swan)
  17. delphine (dolphin, porpoise)
  18. dipterous (fly)
  19. elephantine, proboscine, proboscidean (elephant)
  20. equine (horse)
  21. eusuchian (alligator)
  22. feline (cat)
  23. formic, myrmecine (ant)
  24. galline (chicken)
  25. gastropodian (snail)
  26. helminthic, vermian (worm)
  27. larine (gull)
  28. leporine, leverine (hare, rabbit)
  29. lupine (wolf)
  30. murine (mouse, rat)
  31. musteline (badger, ferret, weasel)
  32. noctillionine, pteropine (bat)
  33. ostracine (oyster)
  34. otarine, phocine (seal)
  35. ovine (sheep)
  36. passerine (bird)
  37. pavonine (peacock)
  38. pieridine, pierine (butterfly)
  39. piscine (fish)
  40. porcine (pig)
  41. sciurine (squirrel)
  42. scyphozoan (jellyfish)
  43. simian (ape, monkey)
  44. soricine (shrew)
  45. taurine (bull)
  46. testudine (tortoise)
  47. ursine (bear)
  48. vespine (wasp, hornet)
  49. vituline (calf)
  50. vulpine (fox)
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13 Responses to “50+ Words That Describe Animals (Including Humans)”

  • linda

    Wow, this is an awesome list! I learned a lot of great new words. Can’t wait to use these words in everyday conversation. 😛 Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah

    What a wonderful list – I love these words!

  • Bob Higgins

    “You might even go out on an evolutionary limb and use pavonine to refer to a male fashion plate. (Your readers can always look it up.)”

    When you ask a reader to look up a word that you chose purely as a piece of “hoop de doodle” you deserve to lose the reader.

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for the list. I’m a guest blogger for a ‘pet website’ and can use some of these words in my blog posts.

  • ApK

    >>When you ask a reader to look up a word that you chose purely as a piece of “hoop de doodle” you deserve to lose the reader.<<

    Yeah, let's all just stick least-common-denominator Newspeak.
    God forbid something you read motivates you to crack open a dictionary and learn a new word.

    Interesting but uncommon words don't add anything to a language if they only ever appear in articles about interesting but uncommon words.

  • Gayla McCoy

    When I was a kid I asked for a dictionary for Christmas. I’m always after a new word, so thank you very much.

  • Stephen Thorn

    What a marvelous article! I’m anxious to use some of these words in a story. I do, however, caution all writers to (as always) be aware of your audience’s beliefs and political prejudices. I recently heard a report that a certain organization is demanding we remove from our language all animalisms (ie “drunk as a skunk” or “crazy like a fox”) because (are you sitting down?) they are offensive to animals’ rights. Yes, there are people who would take serious umbrage to such terms, so be aware of that. After all, we wouldn’t want someone who may be writing us a check to get mad as a hornet, would we? (Ooooh, what I said!)

  • Becky the Floridian

    Yes, because every good story needs a Captain Corvine.

  • Home Security Seattle

    Interesting topic. Thanks for sharing.

  • Vladimir

    This is an interesting list of names for animals and humans 🙂
    Thanks for sharing.

  • venqax

    Don’t forget hirsine, also, “like a goat”. I’ve actuallly run across that one (and it wasn’t meant as a compliment). Love the list. Could be extremely useful in the adjectives armory 🙂

  • venqax

    Though mentioned in the intro, I think *hystricine* (porcupine) missed the list.

  • Tim Bradley, Writer

    I think “cavatine” for “deer-like” belongs, too. It’s wherer the well-known theme for “The Deerhunter” gets its name: Cavatina.

    Would you have something on grouping nouns, such as pride of lions, murder of crows, school of fish, flock of birds, etc.?

    Thanks.

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