I was recently assigned the task of reporting on the first meeting of the Committee on Animalian Pejoratives in English (CAPE), a small cabal of lexicologists who had set out to find animal names that could and should become insults in English. I was expecting either a dry, dull, pedantic discussion, or a bitter batch of bitchy barbs being bandied about. Instead, my faith in humanity was restored.
The meeting was chaired by Dr. Meghal L’Omanyah, Ph.D., and attended by Dr. Prof. Inzool Ting, D. Sc. and Frau Doktor Doktor Doktor Annie Moll, Ph.D, D.Sc., D.Phil, all professors of lexicology. I was the lone, invited observer of the short meeting, a full transcript of which appears below.
L’Omanyah: I hereby call to order this first meeting of CAPE, the Committee on Animalian Pejoratives in English. The goal of this Committee is to define and promulgate animal pejoratives in English. Let us begin with a rollcall of existing bestial insults.
Moll: Well, there’s cow, pig, chicken, and sheep, starting with a farm-
L’Omanyah: Oh, of course
— and jackass, goat, sow, hog, and... that’s all I’ve got for the moment.
Ting: There’s cat and catty, and rat, but oddly not ratty. Dog, cur, bitch...
Moll: I’ve got tomcat and vixen. Do fox or wolf count?
Ting: Possibly. There’s bird-
brained, loon, vulture, peacock, popinjay, dodo,and bat or batty.
L’Omanyah: Hah, hah, bats aren’t birds.
Ting: I didn’t say they were.
L’Omanyah: Fair point. I’ve got hippo and whale, and shrimp.
Moll: Worm, louse, and shrew.
Ting: Leech, snake, toad. Slug.
L’Omanyah: Jackal. Gadfly. Any other existing animalian pejoratives? No. Okay, what about suggestions for new pejoratives. Did everyone do their homework?
Ting: Indeed! I’ve got nuthatches, which refers to flighty little things that come up with crazy ideas.
Moll: Ha! Be careful, that hits a little close to home as we embark on this crazy plan. I’ve got groundhog for those people who seem to always pop up and stare at god-
knows- what to a degree they actually become annoying, and butterfly for someone with a naturally ugly face covered up by makeup to look pretty.
L’Omanyah: Ouch. I like farmed salmon, for the sheltered, possibly home-
schooled, over- educated people without substance — someone with a distinctive lack of street smarts.
Moll: I’ve got another, which actually reminds me a bit of you, Meghal. An armadillo is someone who seems to be annoyingly impervious to any sort of attack, verbal or physical.
Ting: Ha, that is Meghal, at least the verbal aspect.
L’Omanyah: Okay, let’s not turn on each other just yet.
Moll: Yet? I’ve got a gudgeon—specifically a high-
dudgeon gudgeon — which is an angry interlocutor of small intellectual stature easily caught out, even by complete beginners. I’ve also got pikas, who are stingy petty people, especially those who engage in orthoepic disputes without reading the pronunciation indications in dictionaries.
Ting: That’s so meta.
L’Omanyah: Any others? I’ve got one more: a kulan is a wild ass. I imagine that in certain circles it would commonly be prefixed with “Cambridge.”
Ting: (snorts) Oh, I actually found something in an old book: spotted crake! According to my source, it is unknown what sort of person this term refers to, as it is a calque of Tüpfelsumpfhuhn, an even more effective sounding German term of abuse whose reference is similarly unknown.
Moll: I think widgeon, while not yet a term of abuse, should be.
L’Omanyah: Y’know, there are some general animal terms that either just sorta sound bad or refer to unappealing creatures: nematodes and bustards. Drongos. Grebes. Loaches.
Moll: Yeah, loaches are the worst. Y’know what, though? I could keep going, but I’m starting to feel like I’m a big mean bully so I’ll keep it at that.
L’Omanyah: What do you mean? We’re going to reshape the English lexicon!
Ting: Yeah, but I see Annie’s point. At some point it kinda stopped being about pejorative animal terms and started being just mean.
L’Omanyah: But, but
— I’ve got dirt on that OED editor, and I’m all but guaranteed to get six or eight new terms with any definitions we want into the next update! We can’t give up—
Moll: I dunno, Meghal. Maybe we could just be nice for a change.
L’Omanyah: You’ve got to be kidding me!
Ting: As Committee Secretary, I say we put it to a vote. All in favor of invoking Article 50 of the Committee Charter?
L’Omanyah: What? No!
Moll: As Committee Treasurer, I second the motion and vote aye.
L’Omanyah: I vote no!
Ting: Aye. The ayes have it. Sorry Meghal. CAPExit has been triggered, and the club is officially disbanded. Pursuant to the Club Charter, all animalian pejoratives delineated during official Committee business are copyright by the Committee, and may not be used without permission of a majority of the Committee.
Moll: Go easy, Meghal.
L’Omanyah: Sorry. You’re right. Maybe we should be nicer.
Ting: All right!
And there, before my eyes, the Committee on Animalian Pejoratives in English dissolved in an act of selfless love for their fellow humans. Annie Moll and Inzool Ting put the needs of the world above their own welfare. I was moved to tears.
Fortunately, that didn’t last long. Meghal L’Omanyah called her mother’s sister’s boy Vinnies, an up-and-
Moll and Ting left the newly-
[Note: Ms. Porter is no longer an employee of SpecGram’s Wire Services division. She filed the story above, then eructed, “Later, you vulture popinjay dodos! Peace out!” on her way out of the building. —Eds.]