A Lexical Zoo of Animal Adjectives

This marvelous menagerie of descriptive words includes terms that we don't want to end up on the endangered vocabulary list, so learn them and use them!

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definitions & notes only words
  1. anserine
    of or resembling a goose
    A gentleman known as Usher the Clown took to the water in "a machine like a washing tub, drawn by four geese". The industrious showman piloted his anserine chariot from Southwark Bridge to Vauxhall.
    – The Londonist (Sep 9, 2014)
    If you’re familiar with the old-fashioned term silly goose, then you’ll understand this term, which applies equally to geese and silliness. By the way, the synonym goosish has been around longer than you’d think: it’s been recorded since the 1300s. This is a word that deserves a comeback, given all the anserine behavior in the world.
  2. aquiline
    curved down like an eagle's beak
    Conan Doyle even appropriated some of Bell’s physical attributes for Holmes, giving him the professor’s “sharp and piercing” gray eyes and thin, aquiline nose.Washington Post (Jan 24, 2017)
    Around since the mid-1600s, this term has two related meanings. It means all things eagle-y — though we apologize to the eagle for using such an offhand, unmajestic word of my own for this imposing bird. Aquiline can also apply to the distinctive hook or curve of an eagle’s beak. This term is often used for human noses that have a prominent curve, but remember what your mother said about commenting on someone else’s appearance, OK?
  3. asinine
    devoid of intelligence
    But he said it was “ asinine to say that players making only a few million a year are underpaid,” as fans and reporters often say when comparing players’ salaries.New York Times (Nov 8, 2018)
    This word for foolish behavior is one of the most transparent animal words, since it derives from asses: in other words, donkeys, who have never been applauded for their sophisticated behavior.
  4. bovine
    any of various wild or domestic cattle
    A patrol officer pulled alongside the brown-and-white bovine Friday and the animal rammed the car, leaving a large dent.Washington Times (Sep 1, 2017)
    This adjective referring to cows is an insult when applied to people.
  5. canine
    a dog or related mammal
    She was sandwiched between two canines, Lady Bird, who is large and baleful looking, and Gizmo, a twitchy Chihuahua-terrier mix who belongs to her son, Sam.New York Times (Oct 27, 2018)
    Sometimes this word is used for doglike behavior in non-dogs, such as a steadfast person’s canine loyalty. A fun and obscure term is canine letter, also known as the dog’s letter, which is R, because dogs tend to go arrrrrrr or grrrrrrr when they’re in a huff.
  6. caprine
    being or pertaining to or resembling a goat or goats
    Instead of cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys, EU documents speak of “bovine, ovine, caprine and asinine animals.”Wall Street Journal (Jun 14, 2018)
  7. cervine
    relating to or resembling deer
    Moose, as well as other members of the cervine family, live mostly on the shoots of trees, but they die mostly by the shoots of hunters.Various
  8. corvine
    relating to or resembling a crow
    These very long sticks were so slender and dry that the bird was able to lift and to fly with them; therefore, to his corvine mind, they were suitable for his purpose.Hudson, W. H. (William Henry)
  9. elephantine
    of great mass; huge and bulky
    Their hard shells allow the tortoises to crawl deep into thorny thickets, and they navigate loose lava rocks with their elephantine feet.National Geographic (Dec 8, 2015)
  10. equine
    resembling a horse
    The fire at Olsen’s livery stables the following week was extinguished without any injury or loss of life, human or equine.American Gods
  11. feline
    of or relating to cats
    One fearless feline is giving a whole new meaning to the term “catwalk” after an impromptu runway debut at a fashion show in Turkey.Fox News (Oct 30, 2018)
    We don’t want cat lovers to be excluded, so here’s the cat equivalent. Feline can refer specifically to cats or to the broader cat family, which includes panthers, tigers, and lions, oh my. You can use feline to describe cat-like behavior, appearance, websites, paw prints, or anything else that’s catty.
  12. hircine
    relating to or suggestive of a goat, especially in odor
    Said very tame, very trained hircine carries the food and drink, and guides you gently but firmly back to the barn.Golf Digest (Nov 14, 2017)
  13. leonine
    of or characteristic of or resembling a lion
    But other imitations retained a sense of mystery, like Mr. Grimes’s uncannily leonine gait in “King Lion.”New York Times (Apr 3, 2016)
  14. limacine
    of or resembling a slug
    Tempos were surprisingly Victorian; “He Shall Feed His Flock” and “He Was Despised” were positively limacine, and the final section of “Worthy Is the Lamb” lacked momentum.Washington Post (Dec 14, 2017)
  15. lupine
    of or relating to or characteristic of wolves
    There’s The New Mutants, a horror-tinged spin on the Marvel franchise, in which she plays Wolfsbane, a young girl with lupine powers.The Guardian (Oct 17, 2018)
    Dogs are closely related to wolves. Genetically, they’re very similar, though the domesticated dog and wild wolf couldn’t be more different in terms of which you’d rather have as a babysitter. But wolves aren’t canine: they’re lupine.
  16. murine
    of or relating to or transmitted by a member of the family Muridae (rats and mice)
    Half of the test mice were four weeks old, which, in murine terms, qualifies them as adolescents.The New Yorker (Aug 31, 2015)
  17. oscine
    of or relating to the songbirds
    It was something after the order of the purple martin's melodious sputter, only the tones were richer and fuller and the music better defined, as became a genuine oscine.Keyser, Leander S. (Leander Sylvester)
  18. ovine
    of or pertaining to sheep
    Only three sheep are among resident farm animals that roam the park’s pastures and barnyard only a few minutes away from downtown Bellevue, so they’ll be joined by 20 ovine friends visiting for spring shearing.Seattle Times (Apr 24, 2013)
  19. peregrine
    The once-endangered peregrine falcons raise their young on cliffs, and the species was restored in Vermont with help from wildlife agencies and private groups.Washington Times (Mar 12, 2017)
  20. piscine
    of or relating to fish
    From hatchery to harvest, the pricey fish are coddled in the piscine version of five-star luxury.New York Times (Jun 29, 2011)
    Around since the 1600s, piscine has been used in all sorts of fish-related contexts. In the 1816 book The Origin of Pagan Idolatry by George Stanley Faber, the term describes a deity of the sea: “Derceto was the piscine ship-goddess of the Syrians.” In an 1854 edition of reference book Orr’s Circles of the Sciences, the term applies to a skeletal pattern, specifically, “The piscine modification of the vertebrate skeleton.” Our favorite piscine thing is sushi. Mmm, sushi.
  21. porcine
    relating to pigs or swine
    Speculation about a change grew this month after a government-issued postage stamp for the Year of the Pig in 2019 showed a porcine family complete with three piglets.The Guardian (Aug 27, 2018)
    This word is a few letters removed from porcupine, but that’s just a coincidence. If you notice the similarity of porcine and pork, it’ll help you remember the meaning of this term, which describes pigs, who are also called hogs and swine, which are fightin’ words if you apply them to people. Come to think of it, so is pig.
  22. serpentine
    resembling a snake in form
    The women of the Moxi skate team whiz through the streets of Long Beach on their roller skates, first gliding in serpentine patterns, then performing back flips, midair splits and handstands off skateboard ramps.Los Angeles Times (Jul 26, 2018)
    This term, loosely speaking, means snake-y, in all senses. A long, winding staircase could be called serpentine. A more diabolical sense is defined dramatically by the OED: “Having the evil qualities of the serpent; pertaining to the Serpent as the tempter of mankind; diabolical, Satanic; devilishly wily or cunning.” Then there’s serpentine verse: a line of poetry beginning and ending with the same word, which sort of resembles a snake eating its own tail.
  23. taurine
    of or relating to or resembling a bull
    The 38-year-old Padilla, the star attraction at the southwestern town of Olivenza's annual taurine festival, said he was returning to the ring because of a need "to win, to triumph, to be a better man."New York Times (Mar 4, 2012)
  24. ursine
    of or relating to or similar to bears
    Camping is something I’d never do, especially not in western North Carolina, which is an ursine Club Med.Wall Street Journal (Jul 26, 2018)
    This word describes one of the most impressive animals of all: the bear.
  25. vulpine
    resembling or characteristic of a fox
    The wily vulpine crept up a fire escape onto a rooftop near Finsbury Park on Sunday before settling on a blanket to enjoy the evening sun.BBC (Jun 12, 2018)
Created on October 2, 2018 (updated November 14, 2018)

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