The Malta Independent 17 January 2019, Thursday

Animals thrown at people

Tuesday, 24 April 2018, 09:21 Last update: about 10 months ago

Anthony Licari

-         Animals only bite to eat and survive, unlike humans who bite to enjoy themselves.

People in many countries have the habit of using the term ‘animal’ about others who have no manners: slurping table manners, tugging/prodding you while talking, parking/driving arrogance, neighbourhood troglodytism producing primitive musical and jungle noise, wrestling and ball-kicking on the beach etc. Thus, in a general sense, many people feel superior to animals.


The argument of superiority normally used is that humans feel that animals are inferior as they rarely sit to eat and they don’t use their intelligence to offend each other. They are also not practical enough, as they bite to eat or to survive, unlike humans who bite others to enjoy themselves and thus possess the nobility of aggressive sadism.

This superiority complex is obviously a sweeping statement as, but don’t tell anyone, it may happen that animals have better manners than humans. It is thus possible that, when animals have quarrels, they call each other ‘human’ as the worst compliment they may hurl. If we take simple examples, animals never carry shoulder bags in buses and hit other passengers on the head with them. Also they don’t cough into the neck of passengers sitting in front of them.

In various cultures, people may be compared to animals for different reasons and in different situations – which may be totally different even between geographically close cultures.

It is quite normal, for example, for a Frenchman to call his wife or female partner (as it was the French who invented the liberal concubinage) “Ma poule” (my hen) – which she usually considers as a term of endearment. Please avoid generalising since, if you make the acquaintance of a non-Francophone lady and try to use with her the mistakenly romantic term of “Ma poule”, you could find out that she is less prone to laying eggs than hurling them.

At the same time, a French woman, also as a term of endearment, may call her male partner “Mon grand” which may mean “My big man” rather than “My great man” (let’s not exaggerate!). In this case, “big” has nothing to do with physical size. It is just meant to be an appreciation of a big heart. (Frenchmen may have a big heart in a small body.) A small Frenchman may still be addressed by a woman as “My big man” – which does not necessarily mean that she also has a small man as a partner. She is not being sarcastic at all, as the small Frenchman, looking up to his metaphorically big woman, would warm up to her sense of appreciation and hen feathers.

The British, whom many people erroneously believe not to be capable of verbal romanticism, tend to consider ladies as birds (though not hens or penguins which are birds too). However, there is here an attitude of non committal as a bird may range from a sparrow, to a flamingo, to a hawk. Probably most British ladies, if compared to a bird, would prefer to be called a flamingo rather than a sparrow or a hawk. In some countries, being called a dog is very serious. In Britain, this does not seem to be the case and people do not usually insult each other by using the term “dog” especially since most dogs are nice creatures. However, it becomes highly unacceptable to use the term “bitch” even if it is, after all, only the feminine of dog. This is a very obvious case of gender discrimination, worthy of discussion and decision by gender equality commissions and parliamentary debates.

It is frustrating for a man of the law to judge whether an animal name thrown at a person is offensive or not. This is often, though not always, difficult. Calling a man “a skunk” for example, obtains an immediately hostile, hurt reaction in humans. Among skunks, however, the great fragrance emitted by a male skunk may make him very attractive to lady skunks who may enquire, just to chat him up and for prospective encounters, about the wonderful, seductive aftershave that he uses.


“Your honour, he called me a monkey”. Judge: Is he Japanese? Complainant: I don’t understand. Judge: Because in Japan a monkey may be a macaque, which is not among the sharpest in the monkey kingdom. Besides, it has a red face, hands and bottom apart from a short tail. So, if the person who called you a monkey is Japanese, it’s very serious because nobody wants to have a red face, hands and bottom besides a short tail. If however, he is Maltese, it’s quite a compliment as the Maltese think that “makakk” means very clever. Complainant: No, the man who called me a monkey is Maltese; so I suppose it’s all right then. Judge: So you see that one must not rush to be offended. Case dismissed. Meanwhile, for the sake of transparency, marriage counsellers tell prospective brides and grooms to put to their future spouse the important macaque question on the very first date: Excuse me, but do you have a red bottom or a short tail? Better safe than sorry, as these characteristics may be grounds for annulment.

If a person likes to eat rabbit, some intellectuals tend to ridicule him. This does not make much sense, as it seems all right for these intellectuals to eat chicken while it is ridiculous to eat rabbit. First of all, most Mediterranean people eat rabbit. This is even done by some intellectuals, but they do it in the secrecy of their kitchens not to be seen by other strict and conservative intellectuals eating the inferior delicacy called rabbit stew preceded by the slurping of spaghetti with rabbit sauce.  At the same time, it is not considered unacceptable to openly eat chicken even if one is an intellectual. This is obviously a case of discrimination by intellectuals against rabbits and a hugely biased tolerance for chickens. Maltese society must eliminate this blatant discrimination and enact a law which places rabbits and chickens on an equal socio-legal basis.

Elephants, rhinos and hippos have more or less the same shape. It is usually not nice for a person to use these animal names to taunt obese humans. This is because obesity may be considered sexy and some oval or round people may wear very tight jeans or shorts, believing that massive bulges are considered exciting – though not on macaque red bottoms and not if sitting near you on the plane. So, basically, the shape of these animals hurled at humans is not necessarily offensive. However one may be offended at being told that s/he bellows like an elephant when talking, yawns like a hippo when tired and barges like a rhino in a crowd.

Snakes are glad to realise that they can easily trick humans who are mixed up as to whether it’s good or bad to resemble a snake. In some cultures, being called a snake is a compliment as snakes are clever and discreet in the grass until the time comes to act. So they have an ergonomic planning instinct. In other cultures, one takes exception to being called a snake as these can spit poison, unlike polite, superior humans who can talk poison without spitting.

Calling someone a hyena if s/he laughs aloud is a misnomer. For hyenas don’t laugh when they are amused but when they are excited, frustrated, worried about something negative or difficult. But when they are really amused, what do they do? I don’t know, but probably they just smile inconspicuously, trying to be human.

Stubborn as a mule. This is not fair. Mules only look stubborn when humans insist on making them do silly things like walking. Wouldn’t humans be stubborn if mules tried to order them around?

A crocodile nickname is not usually a compliment. This is because crocodiles have big teeth which they do not usually brush and which they do not often use to produce a big, sparkling smile. Besides, man tries to ridicule and offend crocodiles by saying that they produce hypocritical tears without feeling the least compassion for others. This is, of course, unfair for a crocodile also has the right to feel sad and produce tears out of sympathy and compassion for others and himself.

In international politics, sensitive Western ideologists may express dread and horror in relation to Eastern attitudes which may be referred to as “the bear” collectively or a family of cultural bears. Thus the West does not usually consider a bear a sympathetic animal. At the same time, Western animal lovers offer teddy bears for their babies to kiss and hug, while wishing to introduce more bears in Western forests – which sounds and looks a bit like a contradiction. Go figure!


Dr Anthony Licari has an academic background of Human Sciences from various French universities.

  • don't miss