If viral social media posts are anything to go by, dogs that unexpectedlydiscover food will return to the magical spot where it happened again andagain, sometimes for years. One owner tweeted that his dog never fails toinvestigate a bush in which it sniffed out a lasagna three years earlier;another dog has been going every day for five years to check out a gutter thatonce produced a sausage. This tenacity is key to the meaning of the verb dog– to “follow (someone or their movements) closely and persistently.”

Many animal names have undergone such verbification, as the process of turningnouns into verbs is called. Sometimes, as with dog , the verb takes itsmeaning from a particular characteristic of the animal. To parrot is to“repeat by rote” without understanding, like a macaw that can say “Polly wanta cracker” without knowing what it means. Beavers are hardworking engineers ofthe animal world, cutting down trees with their front teeth and using the woodto build elaborate dams, so it’s not hard to see how beaver (away) came tomean “work energetically.” If you have watched a squirrel burying nuts for thewinter, squirrel (away) – “store up for future use” – makes a lot ofsense. With badgers it’s the opposite. They are reclusive creatures that liveunderground, but badger means “harass persistently.”

In other cases, the animal-verb relationship reflects something done to theanimal. The British verb winkle (out) captures the fiddly process ofeating periwinkles, which are small marine snails. “I winkled the recipe outof my mother” implies that you had to work to get her to reveal her secret,just as it can be a struggle to get a tasty but tiny winkle out of its spiralshell.

And sometimes words that look like verbified animal names are not. I hadalways assumed that flounder (“to struggle to move or obtain footing: thrashabout wildly”) came from the way flounders wriggle around to bury themselvesin the sand; it actually appears to be related to the verb founder , as in“the ship foundered on the rocks.” In its origins, quail (“he quailed at thethought”) has nothing to do with small, shy birds scattering in fear, butrather shares a root with quell , “suppress.” Likewise cow (“to destroythe resolve or courage of”) and carp (“to find fault or complain”) cast noaspersions on cattle or fish, as these verbs are also unrelated.

Cats are the most recent animals to be verbified. To cat means simply to“act like a cat,” which involves a quiet dignity. Viral lists of “18 cats whoforgot how to cat,” though, show felines with their heads stuck in vases orsleeping belly up, offering strong evidence that cat should instead bedefined as to “get tangled up in the window blinds.”

Source: Yahoo News – Melissa Mohr

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