While I can’t talk to the animals like Dr. Doolittle did in the 1967 movie, I certainly can talk about them. This time we’ll be looking at all manner of animal-related words, especially their fancy adjectives and the terms that describe them when they gather.

First up is “avine,” a variant of “avian,” which means “relating to or derived from birds.” More specifically, “aquiline” relates to eagles, while “falconine” relates to (you guessed it) falcons.

Turning to some of our more commonly seen birds, “covine” means “like a raven or crow – especially in color.” A group of ravens is known as an “unkindness,” by the way, while a gathering of crows is known as a “murder” as long as there are at least three of them. Which reminds me of my favorite joke: If three crows are a murder, two crows must be an “attempted murder.”

To distinguish them from terns, gulls (groups of which are called “colonies”) are referred to as “larine,” which, when capitalized, is also a girls’ name of Spanish origin meaning “little queen.”

While on the ground, a group of geese is called a “gaggle.” In flight they’re a “skein” or “wedge.” Wherever they are, they’re referred to as “anserine,” an adjective that’s also applied to people who behave in a way that’s stupid, foolish or silly.

When it comes to ducks, some people make a distinction between ducks in general — groups of which they call a “paddling,” “team” or “brace” — and mallards in particular, which seem to make up a group called a “sord” or a “sute.” But my favorite collective term for them is “raft,” which is “a large group of floating ducks.”


Just below those floating ducks are fish that swim about in a group called a “school” or “shoal” (both words have evolved from “schole,” a Dutch word meaning “a troop or crowd”). Their adjective is “piscine,” which also gives us the name of one of our astrological signs. More on that later.

Now let’s look at some domesticated animals, meaning they’ve adapted to “life in close association with and to the benefit of humans.” The best adapted are, of course, dogs and cats, whose respective adjectives — “canine” and “feline” — are also nouns.

Some cats are feral (“ferine” is the adjective for any wild animal) and may live in groups with names like “clowder” and “glaring.” A group of kittens is called a “kindle.”

On the farm we find “equine” horses and “asinine” asses, whose stubborn adjective also applies to a lot of people. Another unfortunate adjective is “porcine,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “resembling a pig or pigs. While porcine isn’t as bad as swinish, it may describe things that are fat, greedy, pushy, or generally piggish – but primarily fat.”

While “bovine” is Latin for “cow,” the biological family called “bovidae” actually includes bison, oxen, sheep and goats. This fact allows me to make the seamless transition to goats, which are referred to as “caprine,” which, in turn, gives us the astrological sign Capricorn.

“Taurine” refers to bulls and, of course, gives us the sign Taurus. (It’s also an amino acid found in the drink Red Bull.) The three other signs that come from animal names are: Leo (the lion, from “leonine”), Cancer (the crab, from “canerine”) and Aries, (which is Latin for “ram”).

And for you Tom Brady fans, in case you were wondering what sign he is, he is not a Capricorn. That’s right, the GOAT is not a goat – he’s a Leo, but somehow I can’t picture him playing for the Lions.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at jlwitherell19@gmail.com.

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