12 Animal Adjectives to Bolster Your Vocabulary

Image credit: 
ThinkStock

In eighth grade when I read that Julius Caesar had an aquiline nose, I mistakenly thought it had something to do with water. But aquiline is from Latin aquila, meaning eagle, not aqua, water. He had a curved, beaklike nose, not a runny one.

You know some other animal adjectives ending in -ine: feline (catlike), canine (doggy) and bovine (cow like). How many more are there? A herd, a flock, a whole bunch. Here’s a dozen.

1. ANGUINE

Thinkstock

Joseph Sheridan Le Faun managed to use the erudite term in The Tenants of Malory. "Her beautiful eyebrows wore that anguine curve, which is the only approach to a scowl which painters accord to angels." The word means snakelike, from Latin anguis, snake.

2. BUTEONINE

Thinkstock

Here’s a perfect description of a hostile-take-over artist: buteonine, resembling a buzzard (from Latin būteōn-em, hawk or buzzard).

3. DELPHINE

Getty Images

Delphine is an obsolete adjective referring to the dolphin (from Old French dauphin, from Provençal dalfin, from Latin delphinus, from Greek delphin).

4. DIDELPHINE

Thinkstock

Didelphine does not refer to a double dolphin, but a double uterus. It’s a variant of didelphian (from modern Latin Didelphia, from Greek di-, twice + delphos, womb) and refers to a subclass of marsupials including opossums.

5. HIPPOCAMPINE

Thinkstock

If your hippocampi are functioning properly, you may remember that hippocampus refers to the elongated ridges on the floor of each lateral ventricle of the brain that play a central role in memory. The hippocampi are named for their resemblance to seahorses (from late Latin, from Greek hippokampos, from hippos ‘horse’ + kampos ‘sea monster’).

Hippocampus, or seahorse, originally referred to mythological creatures having two forefeet, and a body ending in the tail of a dolphin or fish, represented as drawing the carriage of Neptune. Now both terms refer to a genus of small fishes you sometimes see in aquariums. Oh, and “hippocampine” is a rarely used adjective relating to seahorses.

6. LIMACINE

Thinkstock

If you want to call someone sluggish (or worse, slimy) in a more elegant fashion, you could call them limacine, meaning "of, relating to, or resembling a slug; akin to līmus, slime."

7. MACROPODINE

Thinkstock

If you have a smattering of Latin or Greek, you can guess, correctly, that the stem “macropod-“ means "big foot," but macropodine refers not to Sasquatch, but to kangaroos or wallabies.

8. MEPHITINE

Thinkstock

If you’d like to say, ever so discreetly, that something stinks, you could say it’s mephitine, or skunk-like. The word seems to have been coined from mephitis (from classical Latin mefītis, mephītis an exhalation of sulfurated water or gas, also personified, as the name of the goddess of exhalations), but it doesn’t appear in standard dictionaries or even in Google Books.

9. MURINE

Thinkstock

This adjective has nothing to do with eye drops. It means relating to a mouse or mice (from Latin murinus, from mus, mur- "mouse.")

10. MUSTELINE

Thinkstock

If people are sneaky, you might describe them as musteline, or weasely. The word originates from classical Latin mustēlīnus, of or belonging to a weasel, and from mustēla (also mustella) weasel, of uncertain origin (perhaps related to mūs, mouse).

11. PHOCINE

Getty Images

A graceful swimmer might be called phocine, which means resembling a seal, from the genus name phoca, from classical Latin phōca, or seal.

12. PICINE

Thinkstock

Picine, meaning like a woodpecker (from the genus name assigned by Linnaeus, from classical Latin pīcus, woodpecker) is not to be confused with piscine, of or relating to fishes.

More from mental_floss...

August 21, 2013 - 2:00pm
webby
submit to reddit