Humans like Animals

We often use animals to describe humans. Why, and from where do these comparisons come?

Cat is often preceded by the word fat, indicating a well-paid boss, perhaps ignorant or unconcerned by lesser paid employees:

It used to be that Fat Cats of the business world, the great industrialists and bankers, the railroad executives and “big butter and egg men,” really trembled in their shoes while congress was in session.

The World-Herald (Omaha, NE), 18 Dec. 1925


A shark is one who is dishonest and predatory, especially if the word loan precedes it. It is possibly from German Schorck, a variant of Schurke 'scoundrel, villain'. Loan shark was first attested in 1905, but shark was used for pick-pockets in 1707. Later, comparisons were drawn between real sharks' behaviour, and that of lawyers':

There is the ordinary Brown Shark, or sea attorney, so called by sailors; a grasping, rapacious varlet, that in spite of the hard knocks received from it, often snapped viciously at our steering oar.

Herman Melville, Mardi, 1849


Hawk is used to describe someone who is warlike, or eager to fight:

Rostow is distrusted by many for his hawkish attitudes and derided even within the Administration as an expounder of outspoken and endless optimism to a President who craves good news.

“The Hawk-Eyed Optimist, TIME, 15 January 1966

Perhaps it originated from a particular French general:

Count of Bussy, major general of the light horse, had great sweet eyes, a handsome mouth, a something hawkish nose, an open face, and a happy Phisiognomy.

Roger de Rabutin, Loves Empire, or, The Amours of the French Court, 1682


Dove is one desiring peace, the opposite of a hawk, perhaps originating in the Noah story in which this creature beings evidence that God’s wrath is subsided:

And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.

Genesis 8:11

A “hard-line” strategist at the outset, he was considered vaguely dovish by the time he framed Rockefeller’s campaign proposals on Vietnam.

Garry Will, Nixon Agonistes, 1970


Lounge Lizard refers to a fop or social parasite:

Why I think it is wonderful in spite of all your disdain” he persisted. “That girl is not pretty yet she made all sorts of men, old and young, married and single, lounge lizards and athletes think she was the brightest girl in the lot.”

Roe Fulkerson, The News Journal (Wilmington, DE), 11 Oct. 1916


Fox refers to a cunning, wily individual, not to be trusted:

praticone, a suttle, old, practized, experienced, craftie foxe, a slie companion’

 John Florio, A Worlde of Wordes, in 1598.

Jesus Himself uses it of Herod in Luke 13:32: And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’


duck is sometimes used interchangeably for darling, a term of affection:

He’s an odd duck, snooping round with fishermen when he isn’t reading Hebrew, and picking up gossip about the run of lobsters and the affairs of the artists in the Cove.

Everybody’s Magazine, New York, 1911


When however, it is prefixed with dead or lame, it suggests that one is weak, perhaps terminally so.

Chicken is a term for children according Johnson, but an older usage complies with that used in my childhood: a coward.

What chicken-hearted rogues are these to be cow'd with one misfortune!

Thomas Killigrew, Comedies and Tragedies, 1664


Wolf refers to a dangerous enemy, perhaps one that should be hunted before he hunts you:

Of Richard III in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part III:

Nay Warwick, single out some other chase;

For I myself will hunt this wolf to death.


Cows, or fat cows refer to people, usually females, whose manners are unbecoming. Amos in 4:1 suggests that the well-fed women of Samaria should ‘Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, Who oppress the poor, Who crush the needy, Who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink!”


We’ve already had some biblical material, but let’s be encouraged by some more:

A Christian is like an eagle: though he or she feels weak at times, the divine strength with which they are imbued renders them the strongest, most magnificent creatures on earth:

But those who wait on the Lord

Shall renew their strength;

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint. (Is 40:31)


We are sheep:

All we like sheep, have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way’. (Is 53:6)

We are oft too prone to wander off, but our Good Shepherd is ever keen to bring us back.


Like a heifer, we are often too stubborn for our own good:

The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the LORD pasture them like lambs in a meadow?’ Hosea 4:16.


We are often like the deer:

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights (Psalm 18:33).

He allows us to grow in grace, that we might climb the steep mountains that daunt us; the nimbleness of our feet is such that these giant obstacles merely provide us with stunning views of life and an understanding of God’s creative providence Although the rocks are sharp, we shall not fall and stumble in trying situations.


Remember that Christ too was likened to an animal:

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29