‘Silver foxes looking for romance’ Beck lyrics

February 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Behind the times as I am, I have just discovered a great new blend …
The term ‘cougar’ an older female looking for young male prey .. as it were … has been round for a while, but have you ever wondered how to redress the gender balance? Need a useful term for the male counterpart? Now here it is …. MANTHER. Derived clearly from man+panther.

Here’s a definition by perhaps a self-proclaiemd manther:

a Manther is an older male bachelor who pursues young women for frivolous sexual encounters.

Apart from the fantastic morphological blend of manther, what is also interesting about manthers and cougars is the constant use of animals to signify human behaviours and traits.
Fernandez Fernecha and Jimenez Catalan (2003) produced an interesting contrastive study of gender pair animal terms in English and Spanish. Specifically they looked at fox and vixen ~ zorro, zorra and bull and cow~toro and vaca.

The cunning little vixen, a beloved Czech Opera

With respect to the first pair in English, the male animal term could be applied to both genders with reference to craftiness. This was more readily available to speakers as applicable to both genders than the ‘attractiveness’ meaning of terms such as foxy, which were more likely to be used with reference to women.

The gender differences, however, were much more extreme in spanish, were (f) zorra could mean prostitute, a meaning which never applied to males. The male animal term could be applied to both male and females to denote craftiness, as in English. An interesting difference with this term in Spanish is that it also connotes laziness. So much for the English quick brown fox …

The bovine metaphors indexed size, aggression and strength in both languages as well as fatness and clumsiness. No need to guess which of the gendered animal terms indexes fatness or to which gender it was more often applied! The term cow had also a meaning of coarseness in English which might also trigger ideas about hygiene and foolishness which vaca did not. However the authors not that in South American varieties of Spanish, vaca could index prostitution.

It is clear then that animal metaphors are gendered, and the female gender animal term is more likely to be more negative than the male term, and also more likely to be applied to female humans.

Fernandez Fonetecha, A & Jimenez Catalan, R. M (2003). Semantic derogation in animal metaphor: a contrastive-cognitive analysis of male/female examples in English and Spanish. Journal of Pragmatics 35, 771-797.

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