Those Animal '-ine' Words

Inventing a new word

A previous post acted as a good gateway to a whole list of words which relate to animals. As a group, they all for the most part have the suffix ‘-ine’. The leading part of the word is most likely derived from Latin (please don’t hold this to me as I need to check this as I plough through the list). I’ve hunted high and low and as of the date of this post’s posting, I’m yet to find out what this group of words is called. So in the absence of that, I propose to call them the animalisine words. See what I did there? Clever huh? Probably won’t even use that word again now!

I would hazard that the most common animalisine words in daily use are feline (of cats) and canine (of dogs). Less common would be vulpine (of foxes), ursine (of bears) and asinine (of donkeys). This last word is, however, more commonly used as an adjective to describe a person who is obstinate or stupid. This does seem a little ungrateful to donkeys on the latter usage given all the work they have provided during our evolution. Sure, I understand (much as French philosopher Jean Buridan did) them being obstinate. Wouldn’t you be if you were only bred to move heavy loads from A to B and get to stand equidistant between your rations!

My brain was tickled to press on with this post courtesy of a friend not called Dave and a TV channel called Dave. They posted a funny graphic (really, go see for yourself here or here) relating to vaccine. The word vaccine derives from cowpox via the Latin word for cows, vacca. In passing, the English word cow is from Old English via Old Norse via the Old High German, kuo. The current French for cow is vache (from the Latin). The Germans are calling their cows today, Kuh. Which sounds remarkably like what we call cows up in Scotland, coo.

I'm a coo, who are you?

Vaccine would be a good animalisine word for cows. Alas, cows are bovine. My list of animalisine words has bovine as relating to cattle. This makes sense when looking at bovine’s derivation from the Latin bovīnus - concerning oxen or cows - and the Latin bōs - ox, cow.

Cattle is the collective/plural noun for… This is where it gets confusing and way down in the weeds of biology for my liking. Suffice to say cattle are domesticated ungulates, from the genus bos and are cows, bulls and oxen (a rather unique pluralisation which will be covered in a separate post). Cattle derives from Old Northern French - catel - which itself comes from Old French - chatel/chattel. In today’s English, a chattel is an item which belongs to you. I can understand how cattle derived from that, as having livestock would be seen as wealth and prior to money being in circulation, cattle would have served as legal tender.

Cattle are ungulates (from Latin ungulātus having hooves, from ungula) and are any of a large group of mammals all of which have hooves: divided into odd-toed ungulates (such as horses) and even-toed ungulates (such as cattle). Upon reaching ungulates, from a biological rather than etymological perspective, it becomes interesting. Whales are considered even-toed ungulates. Of more relevance to the word theme of this post is that as bovine is to cattle, cetaceans (from Latin cetus and Ancient Greek kētos, literally a 'huge fish') is to whales. So not only a biological curiosity but also a break in the animalisine ‘rule’ of these words all having the suffix ‘-ine’.

Have a go at finding out the animalisine words for the animals in the above picture.

I’ll periodically revisit these animalisine words as they crop up in my journeys. A little more interesting than me posting a long list. Context works wonders for the old grey cells’ capacity to remember.

Having read down this far, you should now be able to answer how do you get two whales in a car?

Down the M4 and cross the Severn bridge.