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Thread: How have names for certain animals become insults for humans?

  1. #1 How have names for certain animals become insults for humans? 
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    Two particular words that mean male donkey and female dog, respectively, have, for centuries, been used as nasty descriptions of their specific genders in humans. So have 'snake', 'dog', 'worm', 'leech', 'rat', 'vulture', 'crow', 'ox', and 'slug', for both sexes. How has this happened? The practice doesn't fit because it combines incomparable species. Obviously the idea is to imply that we have no more control, knowledge, or grace than other creatures. However, animals can't help the ways that they are, so using their behavior to degrade our kind bears no weight. It would make much more sense to berate the actions of humans with literal summaries and negative connotations. What automatically occurs in nature has nothing to do with decisions. Also, what has there been about male donkeys and female dogs to turn their titles in to insults in the first place?


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  3. #2  
    Samurai of Logic Falconer360's Avatar
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    So the word ass being used as slang for the body part and as an insult has little to do with donkeys. It is a North American variant of Arse, and came about in the 1800s as cultural centers of wealth moved from areas with close ties to the British elite. It's part of a whole move of words dropping their "r" before "s" other words that shifted were cuss from curse, bass from barse, and bust from burst. The fact that it is also a name for a Donkey just likely increased it's usage as an insult.

    The usage of ass for a donkey predates the term donkey, and has roots in the Latin asinus, which shares a root with the word asinine (or is the root for asinine? I can't remember, my Latin knowledge is rusty). And that's about all I have for you from what I know.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Falconer360 View Post
    So the word ass being used as slang for the body part and as an insult has little to do with donkeys. It is a North American variant of Arse, and came about in the 1800s as cultural centers of wealth moved from areas with close ties to the British elite. It's part of a whole move of words dropping their "r" before "s" other words that shifted were cuss from curse, bass from barse, and bust from burst. The fact that it is also a name for a Donkey just likely increased it's usage as an insult.

    The usage of ass for a donkey predates the term donkey, and has roots in the Latin asinus, which shares a root with the word asinine (or is the root for asinine? I can't remember, my Latin knowledge is rusty). And that's about all I have for you from what I know.
    We ,over here have the expression "don't be an ass" and the "ass" in question is the animal

    https://www.englishforums.com/Englis...xdwrp/post.htm

    Then again ,we might also say 'don't be an arse" which is a bit anatomical

    Edit:
    https://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/th...bf4c684a5.html

    This seems to claim that in Latin "asinus" could mean "an ass" ,"a fool" or even "an arse"

    Not sure if I believe all that .
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    Samurai of Logic Falconer360's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geordief View Post
    This seems to claim that in Latin "asinus" could mean "an ass" ,"a fool" or even "an arse"

    Not sure if I believe all that .
    I can believe it though, asinine is from the Latin asinus as well after all, so that would fit.
    "For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled." Hunter S Thompson

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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Falconer360 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by geordief View Post
    This seems to claim that in Latin "asinus" could mean "an ass" ,"a fool" or even "an arse"

    Not sure if I believe all that .
    I can believe it though, asinine is from the Latin asinus as well after all, so that would fit.
    I have posted a query in the Latin forum


    http://latindiscussion.com/forum/thr...an-arse.34906/

    I expect you are right.

    EDIT:Seems "arse" was a bit of a stretch
    Last edited by geordief; September 3rd, 2021 at 09:57 PM.
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  7. #6  
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    Ass: rhotic or non rhotic.

    In English the r sound is dropped before a consonant, as in card which is pronounced ca-hh-d.

    Except if you live in Bristol where it's still pronounced ca-rr-d.

    So I think arse as ass is okay.

    Bitch: I hear women accusing other women in this way. Probably because they talk about each other behind their backs. Just slang.
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    I think Weasel is a great insult
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    Australian's use drongo and galah - well known Australian birds - as insults, although these are falling into disuse. I'd heard these began in WW1 Army as non-specific, non-profane insults for use on cadets during basic training - not sure if that is true. It didn't save Australia's young men from profanity, just added a few more insult words to the collection. All I can think is that these birds sometimes flock together ie even though they may be intelligent as individuals (galahs are a clever parrot) they tend to follow the group, without initiative. Not like humans...

    Languages and words can be illogical - meanings can be inverted, invented and changed at whim. Or they can with English.
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  10. #9  
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    Thank you, Falconer360. Oddly enough, donkeys themselves have been insulted with their names. This is ironic, because the creatures' slow approach to work is fueled by caution, not laziness or stupidity. Donkeys are very smart and know better than to jump in to matters. They have been named long before the days that animal behavior has been understood, though.
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  11. #10  
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    Donkey, dog, crow, snake, vulture are yoga poses.
    Devised as practices by people who admired the attributes of certain animals.
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  12. #11  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Theresa View Post
    Two particular words that mean male donkey and female dog, respectively, have, for centuries, been used as nasty descriptions of their specific genders in humans. So have 'snake', 'dog', 'worm', 'leech', 'rat', 'vulture', 'crow', 'ox', and 'slug', for both sexes. How has this happened? The practice doesn't fit because it combines incomparable species. Obviously the idea is to imply that we have no more control, knowledge, or grace than other creatures. However, animals can't help the ways that they are, so using their behavior to degrade our kind bears no weight. It would make much more sense to berate the actions of humans with literal summaries and negative connotations. What automatically occurs in nature has nothing to do with decisions. Also, what has there been about male donkeys and female dogs to turn their titles in to insults in the first place?
    Donkeys (asses) are reputed to be stupid. The term ass is not, so far as I am aware, restricted to the male donkey but applies to both sexes.

    Bitch, I don't know about, but the other pejorative animal comparisons are clearly to do with how these creatures are perceived to behave, e.g. the snake slithers in a sinuous (not straightforward) motion and has a venomous bite. The rest of them you can work out.

    I am unaware of anyone using the term crow as an insult.
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    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post
    I am unaware of anyone using the term crow as an insult.
    Upstart crow.
    "[Dywyddyr] makes a grumpy bastard like me seem like a happy go lucky scamp" - PhDemon
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  14. #13  
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    I just want to mention that in my first post, I'm referring to a word that includes the title 'jack'. Its short form is always either by itself or combined with the name for a male donkey. There is no version that uses 'jenny', which is what a female donkey is called. This explains why the nasty name that I have in mind is only applied to guys, but it does not explain why jacks are isolated in this case.
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  15. #14  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Theresa View Post
    I just want to mention that in my first post, I'm referring to a word that includes the title 'jack'. Its short form is always either by itself or combined with the name for a male donkey. There is no version that uses 'jenny', which is what a female donkey is called. This explains why the nasty name that I have in mind is only applied to guys, but it does not explain why jacks are isolated in this case.
    OK. But the term ass (donkey) is an insult, just as much as jackass. In Britain, far more so in fact.
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  16. #15  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dywyddyr View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post
    I am unaware of anyone using the term crow as an insult.
    Upstart crow.
    Excellent!

    Very erudite.
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