Joseph Bonneau
email jbonneau@gmail.com   (PGP key)
mobile +1 650 804 6934
office +1 415 436 9333 x132

Animal verbs

Some animal names can be directly used as verbs, meaning to act like that animal. My favorite example is "badger," which means to harass persistently, it's even possible in a courtroom to object to the opposing side's badgering. I've attempted to list all other animal names that can be used like this.

Note that this does include words like "fish" or "frog" which are animal names and also verbs meaning to hunt for that animal.

This is a difficult list to compile in any systematic way, I haven't seen a list any where else on the web. It is also somewhat subjective as to which words exactly fit the speficiation above, thus a few categories.

Definite examples

These words are the best exmaples, listed in the dictionary in both verb and noun form from one origin. Thus, they are very likely to be derived directly from the stereotypical behavior of their namesake animal.

  • ape
  • badger
  • buffalo
  • bug
  • bull
  • crab
  • crane
  • crow
  • cock
  • cuckoo
  • dog
  • fox
  • goose
  • hog
  • horse
  • hound
  • leech
  • mouse
  • monkey
  • parrot
  • ram
  • rook
  • skunk
  • snake
  • spider
  • sponge
  • rabbit
  • turtle
  • weasel
  • wolf
  • worm

I included "spider," even though it is not defined as a verb in the dictionary, it is commonly used as one in reference to gathering data from web pages.

I also think "turtle" is common enough as a verb meaning for a boat to flip over to go here, although it is not officially defined that way.

"Rabbit" is not in the dictionary either, I believe it is used in prison to mean "try to escape" and also in cross country running.

Examples listed with different origins

These words are listed in the dictionary with different origins for the animal and the verb, essentially meaning they are unrelated from a linguistic perspective. However, when used as verbs all of these words roughly describe recreating the animal's behavior, so they could arguably fit the criteria.

  • buck
  • duck
  • fawn
  • fly
  • lark
  • quail
  • raven
  • shark

Examples with obviously different origins

These words are listed in the dictionary with different origins for the animal and the verb, and there is not apparent connection. I could see taking "cock" off of the previous list and putting it here instead, the link between chickens and preparing guns for firing is unclear.

  • bat
  • bear
  • carp
  • cow
  • grouse
  • gull
  • hawk
  • perch
  • pike
  • rail
  • ray
  • seal
  • slug
  • sow
  • swallow
  • tick
  • whale
  • yak

"Slug" is complicated because it is defined as a verb both with and seperately from the animal. I think it belongs here because the normal verb meaning, to hit, is the unrelated one. The related one is an obscure term from typesetting.

"Sow" is even pronounced differently when used to mean "plant seeds" as opposed to "female pig," it is also on my list of homographs.

Examples requiring a preposition

These words qualify by having the verb form listed with the same origin as the animal, but are usually only used with a preposition.

  • beaver (away)
  • cat (around)
  • chicken (out)
  • clam (up)
  • ferret (out)
  • pig (out)
  • pony (up)
  • squirrel (away)
  • rat (on)

A few of these are listed in the dictionary as being British slang, like "cat around" and "beaver away" but they make sense.