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The Beast In All Of Us: A Brief Tour

Animals are a rich source of metaphor/communication in behavior/popular culture

Animal metaphors carry much psychological meaning and linguistic freight in our lives. A single animal term can be a short-cut to significant communication.Indeed, unfortunately people sometimes kill over some of these terms! For fun I've listed below a few examples of how the beasts in us and around us can carry so much of our emotional and cognitive meaning and our communications. This is a short non-exhaustive list, with no particular order! Please add to it:

You're an animal, you're a beast! Don't badger me. You're badgering the witness. Wise as an owl. I smell a skunk. I smell a rat. Stubborn like a mule. Eats like a pig. 'Fraidy cat. Birdbrain. I pigged out. You made a monkey out of me. Eagle-eyed. She's gone ape. They chickened out. A Mafia gorilla. Loan shark. Stool pigeon. Singing like a canary. Pigeon-holed. Hen pecked. Dogged persistence. Graceful as a swan. Something fishy about this. Wolfs down his food. Ferocious as a lion. Memory like an elephant. A war hawk. A peace dove. A CIA mole. A fly on the wall. Drunk as a skunk. A night owl. Do it for a lark. Doggy style. Crow about it. Bull****. Horse****. Timid as a mouse. Snake eyes. When pigs fly. Making a bee-line. Bottom feeder. Morning people/larks versus night people/owls. Snake-oil salesman. Swan song. Dog days. Goosed. Like a bull in a china shop. Cat got your tongue? Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a duck. Gentle as a lamb. Lazy like a sloth. He gets my goat. He had to eat crow. Hare-brained. She parrots everything I say. Horse sense. Lucky rabbits foot. A fox knows many things, a hedgehog only knows one thing. The 900 pound gorilla in the room. Mad as a March hare. Crazy as a loon. He's a snake. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Sly like a fox. Foxy lady. That handsome silver fox. Hogs the show. You maggot! Weasel words! You swine! A corporate vulture. A blood-sucking corporate leech. A piranha. A toady. Frog in my throat. Who's ox is being gored? Busy as a bee. Dumb as a dodo bird. Taming of the shrew. Crazy as a bat. The lion's share. Snail-mail. The elephant in the room. To ape someone. Cuckoo, cuckoo! Try to worm your way out of this. A drug mule. Laughs like a hyena. He's a shrimp. Newt (well-known politician...). I am totally buffaloed. Changes like a chameleon. Bunny-hop. Dumb like a fox. Make an ass of yourself. You're like an ostrich with its head in the sand. Beaver. Looney-bin. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Democratic Donkey. Republican Elephant. Take this, you dirty rat, you little cockroach!

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So what does this short sort of random selection of animal metaphors, expressions and linguistic and communicative usages tell us? One thing is that animals are more than a field of study for psychology, they represent as I noted above useful means of communicating meaning, emotion, attitudes, decisions, preferences, denotation and connotation, in sum, representing a full range of our HUMAN psychology. Also noteworthy, although not covered here, is that cultures and societies can differ in the power and salience of animal metaphors and meanings, with, for example, some indigenous psychologies incorporating such uses very extensively. Also the wonderful role of animals in the imaginal and real life of children, in stories, animation, and more, should be noted.

So in conclusion, dear reader, please donate to an animal charity of your choice so that we can keep these amazing critters among us, perhaps become a vegetarian, and support endangered species activities...Psycholinguistics needs this!

 

Frank Farley, Ph.D., is a L.H. Carnell Professor, Temple University, and former President of the American Psychological Association.

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