Stanford Linguistics in the Nooz

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Not the news, the nooz.

Joshua Walker (Stanford '05) points me to this wonderful story in the Onion of October 21:

Report: 65% Of All Wildlife Now Used As
Homosexual Subculture Signifier

PALO ALTO, CA—A study released Tuesday by the Stanford University Department of Linguistics revealed that nearly two-thirds of all animal species have been adopted to describe various gay subcultures. "Many know that bears are large hairy gay men, and that otters are homosexuals who are smaller in stature but still hirsute," said Professor Arvid Sabin, lead author of the study, which also clarifies such denotations as wolf, panda bear, dragonfly, starfish, trout, and yeti. "But do they know, for instance, that 'chicken' is used to describe a thin, inexperienced 18- to 29-year-old gay male? Before long, we could see homosexuals referring to one another as pelicans or even Gila monsters." The study concluded that if immediate conservation measures are not taken, all animal species will be exhausted by 2015 and the gay community will have to start dipping into the plant kingdom.

As it happens, I have two gay male friends who are pandas. They're both Canadian, but I don't think that's significant.

I myself am both a penguin and a wool(l)y mammoth.

Related Language Log posting here.


  1. Olga said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

    "I myself am both a penguin and a wool(l)y mammoth."
    Thanks for sharing…

    An excellent example for metaphor, too.

  2. Dan T. said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

    But a cougar is straight.

    There are a few million insect species around that haven't been used in this context as far as I know.

  3. Nathan Myers said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

    Dan: Latin binomials rarely make good slang, Homo notwithstanding.

  4. Sili said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

    I don't know for sure, but I think I may be a slimemold.

    Interesting to see that there are still (other) inexperienced 29-year-olds out there. At least in principle.

  5. Dan Lufkin said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

    A cousin of mine is a Trumbull's lesser wallaby, but we try to discourage him from appearing in public.

  6. Dan Lufkin said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    On second thought, this isn't as dumb as it appears. There are many actual species that are characterized only by their mating habits.

  7. Janice Huth Byer said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

    My growing preference for staying at home, oriented toward a good reading light, qualifies me as a houseplant.

  8. Nathan Myers said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

    Janice: But which houseplant? Specificity is all. I know of some vines.

  9. Stephen Jones said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

    But do they know, for instance, that 'chicken' is used to describe a thin, inexperienced 18- to 29-year-old gay male

    13-16 in the UK, and the chicken fancier is gay, not necessarily the chicken.

  10. Adrian Mander said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

    Flavobacterium reporting in!

  11. Nassira Nicola said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    As it turns out, a sign for BISEXUAL that's gaining popularity in ASL is a *very* near-homophone for the sign PENGUIN. It's causing a little bit of mild hilarity.

  12. dr pepper said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

    Romans referred to straight people who liked oral sex as "crows". And of course Nero had his "minnows".

    Here in the US, straight men who were always on the prowl were called "wolves".

    And then there are the furries, who disdain all such connections since they believe their animal identities are seperate from their sexuality.

  13. Sam said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    As a linguistics undergrad I studied words used to describe gays and found that across several cultures it is common for birds of various kinds to refer to women and gay men. Other small, flighted creatures also featured heavily (fairies, butterflies, etc).

    Reading here about /chicken/ for a young, effeminate (thinness is equated with femaleness) gay male and /penguin/ for bisexuals in ASL brought that all back to me and it is very, very intriguing to ponder what's up on with that.

  14. Nathan Myers said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

    Urban dictionary is not very helpful:

    45. penguin:

    An awkward lesbian. Typically identifiable by plaid attire, taste in music that ignores anything more than 5 years old, or tendency to speak to oneself and/or criticize others in a quiet, heavily-impeded speech, much like that of a penguin. Also prone to frantic movements of the arms below the elbows.
    She rocked the penguin look, wearing a plaid button down while scoffing at the coldplay song playing through the sound system.

    It's even less helpful on the subject of mammoths.

  15. Albatross said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

    Romans referred to straight people who liked oral sex as "crows". And of course Nero had his "minnows".

    I though that was Tiberius.

  16. Kapitano said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

    Can I be a Streptococcal Pharyngitis? I used to date a Brotosaurus.

    Semi-seriously, what kind of twisted animal metaphor is it to call a woman a "foxy chick"? And why is "foxy" good but "vixen" bad?

  17. Thomas P said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 11:27 pm

    It's fitting that Toronto was selected for World Pride in 2014 (such a long time away!!!). Only here do bears and otters and pandas and chickens co-mingle and frolic with nary a sour, pedantic note from a linguist. (oops! I didn't do any frequency checking on Google. So much for the AAAS.)

  18. Nassira Nicola said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 12:24 am

    @Sam – regarding PENGUIN/BISEXUAL, I can safely say that not very much is up with it, or at least not the way you're thinking.

    This is the sign PENGUIN; in the version of BISEXUAL in question, the movement comes from an alternating flexion/extension of the elbows, rather than bending the waist, in a visual pun on "going both ways." I can't find a video online, but you get the drift. The resemblance appears, alas, to be accidental.

    As for other feminine fowl … I couldn't begin to tell you, ducky.

  19. dr pepper said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 12:41 am

    Oops, right, it was Tiberius.

  20. Tonio said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 1:57 am

    29 is far too old for a chicken; I'd say you stop being chicken at about 21, and can start rather younger than 18 (chicken can overlap with jail-bait). The chicken fancier is called a chickenhawk (which is a non-specific term for 3 different hawk species, the Cooper's Hawk, the Sharp-shinned Hawk and the Red-tailed Hawk, according to Wikipedia). I myself am a chub (any of a variety of species of fish, although "fish" itself refers to a woman). I've never heard the term "panda" in reference to gay men, and neither Wikipedia nor Urban Dictionary provides any clues. What does it mean?

  21. Peter Taylor said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 4:55 am

    @Stephen Jones, I didn't know that. I'm now having horrible flashbacks of Ainsley Harriott in Chicken Tonight adverts.

  22. Zwicky Arnold said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 9:25 am

    Before more people go searching further for evidences of panda, penguin, and woolly mammoth as recognized subcultures or "types", I have to confess that I've been stretching things a bit. Strictly speaking, these are "totem animals" for specific people, and each has its own history. Still, it's fun to speculate.

  23. Mr Punch said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    "Chicken" was commonly used in the '40s and early '50s (possibly earlier, I don't recall it later except in Everly Brothers lyrics) to refer to a young (inferentially straight) woman.

  24. Dan T. said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 10:23 am

    There's the old idiom, "spring chicken".

    What does one's "salad days" refer to, a time when one supposedly had a more herbivorous diet?

    The Linux operating system is traditionally associated with a penguin icon, and various other systems, programming languages, and other tech topics have animals associated with them via the popular O'Reilly series of books (like the "camel book" for Perl).

  25. Richard Howland-Bolton said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    Ant and Cleo "…My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…"

  26. Sili said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    I used to date a Brotosaurus.

    Is that like an imaginary boyfriend?

    Before more people go searching further for evidences of panda, penguin, and woolly mammoth as recognized subcultures or "types", I have to confess that I've been stretching things a bit. Strictly speaking, these are "totem animals" for specific people, and each has its own history. Still, it's fun to speculate.


    If you'd kept quiet the meanings woulda been assigned organically. (i.e. pulled out of someone's arse.)

  27. Rob Groves said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    I've definitely heard the term Panda for used for asian men who identify as bears on multiple occasions. Likewise, I've heard Starfish (or various other kinds of fish) for excessively (or undesirably) passive bottoms/women. Both I'd heard long before this story, though whether the authors new these, I can't say.

  28. Simon Cauchi said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    "Salad Days" was also the title of a long-forgotten British musical, c. 1950s, of which I remember only these opening lines of one of its numbers: "I sit in the sun and one by one I count my thoughts and think them over . . ." It was about Oxbridge undergraduates, green in judgment and (if I remember correctly) all very innocent.

  29. Mr Fnortner said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 10:20 pm

    It's a shame that minx is only one of them.

  30. slobone said,

    October 22, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

    @Tonio, the WIkipedia entry for bear has a lot more variants, including "red panda" for straight bear and "polar bear" for a white-haired bear. "Wolf" is said to be an aggressive otter. As always with Wikipedia, caveat lector…

  31. Luis said,

    October 23, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

    Puerto Rican and Dominican Spanish: pato 'gay man'; literally 'duck'. This used to be much more of a taboo word some 20 years ago, but it's become much milder since. There are no ducks in Puerto Rico, so most any conversation you hear about "ducks" isn't actually about ducks.

    Pájaro 'bird' is a common euphemism for gay, too.

  32. Jim said,

    October 23, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

    Can we map "penguin = bisexual" to the general outward sameness of penguin appearance, regardless of gender? Have to skirt around the obvious androgyny side of that and flip it to get at the "I feel the same toward both genders" equating outsiders being fixated on the visual angle and that not seeing what other penguins/bisexuals do.

  33. Zoe Larivelt said,

    October 23, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

    "There are no ducks in Puerto Rico." Like snakes in Ireland? Wikipedia lists 24 species of ducks that can be found in Puerto Rico, many of them only accidentally but some of which are established there. Maybe people just don't like to talk about them.

    It's true about the Irish snakes, though.

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