Grammar Moses: I won’t buffalo you. We monkey with animal names all the time

Last week I wrote about animal names that also can be used as verbs. Merriam-Webster came up with a list of nine: ferret, fox, ape, parrot, weasel, rat, badger, snipe and squirrel.

I came up with seven more without giving it more than a moment’s thought: bat, cat, snake, buffalo, mouse, goose, worm and fly.

I asked you for your thoughts, partly to see if any of you were still reading and partly to prove a point.

“Nothing to crow about, but I thought of a few animal verbs: horse or monkey (with ‘around’), skunk, hog, bear, yak and seal,” wrote Gerry McGovern.

All good ones, but “yak” is an alternate spelling of the verb “yack.” That goes both for talking and barfing.

“You can fish for fish,” Ken Juranek wrote, adding “hound” and “dog” as other examples.

Dorene Wackerfuss came up with monkey, bug, fish, perch, bull, crow and duck.

You won’t see many fish perched on a dock piling among the seagulls, so I don’t believe the species of fish has anything to do with the verb form.

“Tell me you are horsing around by leaving ‘horse’ out of your list,” wrote Jan Hollen.

“I immediately thought ‘dog,’ because I had two of them at my feet at the time,” wrote Leslie Meredith.

Bob Kopp added “shepherd” to the list, which brings up a curious situation. Instead of the verb being derived from the noun, in this case the noun is derived from the verb. Jesus was a shepherd (in a metaphorical sense), according to the Bible. But Australian shepherds (the dog) date back to 1500s Spain, according to my readings, and the German Shepherd was not bred until 1899. While on the topic, Bob also offered “bulldog.”

Penny Derer made a number of suggestions that overlap in this discussion, including to “swan about,” which means to move about aimlessly. And that pretty accurately describes the day of one of the giant white water fowl.

Another of Penny’s offerings was “quail.” I’d never heard of the verb form, probably because it’s out of style, but it means “to show fear.” Alas, the verb and the noun have nothing to do with one another.

Quail, in my experience, are too dumb to show fear. And that’s of benefit to fine restaurants everywhere. (It’s better than squab.)

Rick Dana Barlow clearly spent half the weekend coming up with this list, from which I omitted repeats and questionable: bear, bug, butterfly, chipmunk (to speed up voices in audio files), clam, cow, crab, dog, birddog, fawn, hog, hound, leech, pig, ram, scallop, skunk, sponge, turtle, crane, crow, eagle, gander, grouse, hawk, lark, quail, swallow and flounder.

Tom Connelly chimed in with a litany of words already covered here but added “duck.”

And Design Editor Brian Shamie, who put the column on the page, wrote, “I'd add peacock to your list, but I wouldn't want to show off.”

Can you imagine ridding the language of animal verbs? It would be a fool’s errand and of benefit to no one.

I kid you not.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim’s book, “Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage,” at Write him at and put “Grammar Moses” in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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