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.
owlish – 1. like an owl, especially in seeming solemn and wise 2. (of glasses or eyes) resembling the large round eyes of an owl
– Christopher Buckley, Little Green Men
leonine – of or like a lion
– Joseph Heller, Catch-22
. . .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.
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
– 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
From Greek στρούθειος "ostrich" perhaps from PIE *trozdo- as in "thrush".
ostrich is from Vulgar Latin *avis strūthiō .
albatross – metaphorical: 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?
– 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
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.
– Sportinglife, March 13, 2008
Important distinction: The albatross itself represents good luck. It was only when the mariner killed it, that he had to wear it in penance.
ursine – like a bear
– Christopher Buckley, Little Green Men
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.
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
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)