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The human animal sometimes uses other animals as metaphors for their traits. This week we share some instances.

Sidebar: Our first quote describes the host of a weekly TV news-interview show. It comes from a novel by the son of William J. Buckley, who hosted such a show, The Firing Line. Did the novelist model his character after his father? I give you a bit more of the quote, so you can decide.

owlish1. like an owl, especially in seeming solemn and wise 2. (of glasses or eyes) resembling the large round eyes of an owl
    Banion looked owlishly into the lens through his tortoiseshell eyeglasses. He seemed perpetually on the verge of smiling, without ever giving in to the impulse. He was in his late forties, but could have been any age. He had looked this way since his second year at Princeton. He had a round face that was handsome in a bookish sort of way.
    – Christopher Buckley, Little Green Men
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leonine – of or like a lion
    Major ______ de Coverley was a splendid, awe-inspiring, grave old man with a massive leonine head and an angry shock of wild white hair that raged like a blizzard around his stern, patriarchal face.
    – Joseph Heller, Catch-22
There is also Leonine verse, which Ambrose Bierce explains, with typical humor, in his Devil’s Dictionary:
    Unlike a menagerie lion. Leonine verses are those in which a word in the middle of a line rhymes with a word at the end, as in this famous passage from Bella Peeler Silcox:

    . . .The electric light invades the dunnest deep of Hades.
    . . .Cries Pluto, 'twixt his snores: "O tempora! O mores!"

    It should be explained that Mrs. Silcox does not undertake to teach pronunciation of the Greek and Latin tongues. Leonine verses are so called in honor of a poet named Leo [12th c., in Paris], whom prosodists appear to find a pleasure in believing to have been the first to discover that a rhyming couplet could be run into a single line.
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Just for fun, here’s an extremely obscure word.

But a useful one. Have you known someone who, faced with an unpleasant situation, “buries his head in the sand” like an ostrich? That is, refuses to face it, pretends it doesn’t exist? And thus, by letting it fester unattended, usually makes it worse?

Shouldn’t there be a word for it? Sure – and you’re about to meet that word.

struthionine – ostrich-like
    We have nothing but contempt for the struthionine conduct of a Government that is unable to see and refuses to be taught.
    – Ivor John Carnegie Brown, Having the Last Word

    A large number of people have, in the face of bewildering events and issues, adopted a struthionine practice; that is, burying their heads in the sand (the adjective struthionine which I have used has a certain polite and esoteric aura, deriving from the Latin struthio = an ostrich).
    – Earle P. Scarlett, Archives of Internal Medicine (1966) (as quoted in Managed Care Success: [etc.] by James W. Saxton and Thomas L. Leaman
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From Greek στρούθειος "ostrich" perhaps from PIE *trozdo- as in "thrush".

ostrich is from Vulgar Latin *avis strūthiō .
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albatrossmetaphorical: a burden or encumbrance, particularly a marker of guilt, etc. (literal: a very large white seabird with long narrow wings) Etymologies given after the quotes.

Dare I give some recent political examples, if I strive for neutrality and list them alphabetically by candidate?
    Hillary Rodham Clinton's albatross is not her sex, or her once-wayward husband - but her record on the Iraq war, a new book claims.
    – New York Post, March 12, 2008

    [McCain’s supporters are] all white and nearly all male. Such has been the inescapable Republican brand throughout this campaign … For Mr. McCain, this albatross may be harder to shake than George W. Bush and Iraq, particularly in a faceoff with Mr. Obama.
    – New York Times, Feb. 17, 2008

    But still, Wright for the past few days has hung like an albatross on Obama's neck …
    – Black Enterprise, March 22, 2008
Etymology: The “burden” sense alludes to the bird in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge (1772–1834). “Water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.” The “bird” sense is from Sp./Port. alcatraz ‘pelican’ (influenced by Latin albus ‘white’). That, in turn, is probably from Arabic, either al-ghattas ‘sea eagle’ or al-qadus 'machine for drawing water, jar' (Greek kados ‘jar’), noting the pelican's pouch. [Notice that this was a false splitting. The Arabic al-, meaning ‘the’, was thought to be part of the word.]

An obscure meaning, in golf: one under par is a birdie and two under par is an eagle. A bigger bird for the greater achievement. So naturally, three under par is named for an even grander bird. It is called an albatross.
    The Yorkshireman chalked up an albatross at the par-five 14th after holing a three wood from 248 yards. Garbutt said: "It's the first time I've ever had an albatross although I've had 11 holes in one.”
    – Sportinglife, March 13, 2008
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Important distinction: The albatross itself represents good luck. It was only when the mariner killed it, that he had to wear it in penance.

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ursine – like a bear
    The door opened to reveal two Russians, enveloped in a Chernobyl cloud of their own cigarette smoke. Banion coughed throughout the introductions. The older Russian was a Dr. Kokolev, the younger, a Colonel Radik. … Dr. Kokolev was jollier, in the ursine Russian way.
    – Christopher Buckley, Little Green Men
[Yes, this is the same work I cited a few days ago, for owlish. So sue me! I liked the book, although I enjoyed the author’s Boomsday even more.]
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1. like a wasp (sharply irritable, or showing irritation)
2. like a WASP (disparaging: of the power elite or the social elite of White Anglo Saxon Protestants)

For the former sense, we enjoy Shakespeare’s breathtakingly bawdy banter between Petruccio and Katherine. For the latter we use the another oft-bawdy source, the Harvard student-newspaper.
    Come, come, you wasp; i' faith, you are too angry.
    If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
    My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
    Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
    Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting?
    In his tail.

    . . . . . . .In his tongue.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Whose tongue?
    Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
    What, with my tongue in your tail? nay, come again,
    Good Kate; I am a gentleman.

    – Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew

    Pheasant Creek will have neither pheasants nor a creek, and Aspen Grove will have no trees at all, at least in the first few years of development. Once you’ve found a subdivision that sounds like a WASPish Connecticut country club …
    – Harvard Crimson, Nov. 8, 2006

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Note to readers: Help wanted! Amid the US presidential campaign, my next them will be on words from the recent press (preferably negative) about politics or politicians. I only have a few, not enough for a theme, but surely I can count on you to email me more from your daily reading. Any and all input is cheerfully accepted, with my thanks, and will be credited.

Now, on to today’s word, coltish. The dictionaries err. (To prove this, I’ve give far more quotes than usual, the first three are particularly clear.) They say define it as “energetic but awkward” or as “lively and playful; frisky”. But actual usage shows that the word is almost always used for an adolescent girl, with sexual implications. How odd, since a colt is by definition male.

coltish – with the enthusiastic awkwardness of youth (almost always applied to a female, with implications of budding sexuality)
  • Changeful, bad-tempered, cheerful, awkward graceful with the tart grace of her coltish subteens, excruciatingly desirable from head to foot … – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
  • Seventh-graders – coltish legs, budding breasts that hardly bounced as they ran. ... most retained an endearing, child-like quality. Not yet women, but no longer girls. Innocent, at least for a while. – Michael Crichton, Next
  • … perhaps eighteen or nineteen years of age – gawky and coltish, all long legs and arms, but with the promise of stunning beauty to add graceful curves to the lean linens of her body. – Jim Butcher, Fool Moon
  • … he saw the Wet Nurse hurrying toward him – a gangling, coltish figure with a peculiar mixture of brusqueness, awkwardness and decisiveness. – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
  • Tessa, having grown into a coltish, freckle-faced girl …
  • … [In a striptease joint] I watched as a coltish, ponytailed thing auditioned in sandals. … I was the only auditioning girl who bothered to work the pole …
  • I had outgrown my bicycle. My body was so long and coltish that my knees had begun to hit the handle bars …
  • I watched a couple of coltish women my age dangling on swings in the sunshine, kicking their tanned legs …
  • They're coltish and fashionable, some in short skirts with high boots …
  • … he could only look at her as old memories and old needs tangled with the new. Time hadn't stood still for them. She wasn't the coltish young girl …
  • Red-headed with long coltish legs, she looked about fourteen in the photo. … She must be a real heartbreaker now.
  • Her legs were thin and coltish, and they scissored in the air as they tried to throw off her attacker.
  • One night Jeff and Sharla had a threesome with a coltish American starlet new to Paris …
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