The power of insults that are based on the names of animal species can vary quite dramatically across different languages and cultures. Prof. Dr. Dagmar Schmauks who is a supernumerary professor at the Technical University of Berlin (and whose research interests include pragmatics, man-animal-relationship, and orientation in space) writes of such things in the scholarly journal Semiotica 2014; 198: 93 – 120. ‘Curs, crabs, and cranky cows: Ethological and linguistic aspects of animal-based insults’
The professor lists many animal-based insults that can have similar and yet in some cases significantly different weights and meaning(s) in German and English. For example :
● smelly: billy-goat [Ziegenbock], fox [Fuchs], skunk [Stinktier]
● slimy: jellyfish [Qualle], snail [Schnecke], snake [Schlange]
● cruel or ruthless: hyena, vulture [Geier], wolf
● sly: fox [Fuchs], rat [Ratte], snake [Schlange], weasel [Wiesel]
● dishonest: magpie, steal like a magpie [Elster, stehlen wie eine Elster]
● deceitful, deceptive: snake (in the grass) [Schlange]
● evasive: weasel [Wiesel]
● wretched: cur [Köter], worm [Wurm]
● subversive: mole [Maulwurf]
Photo credit: The photograph of Scalopus aquaticus linnacus (a mole) is courtesy of Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University, US.
Bonus Assignment [optional] : Speciesism : is the human use of insults based on animal names insulting to animals?