four-footed males, females, and children

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Dec 9 03:23:14 UTC 2008

I have to say, Mark said it more clearly in fewer words:
>Or, at least, cow[female] is much
>better known than dog[male]

That are the only grounds on which I can excuse Shortz.  (But he has
exiled dog breeders and cow herders from his clientele.)


At 12/8/2008 08:40 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>At 8:01 PM -0500 12/8/08, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>>Will Shortz's "Animal Tracks" puzzle in the NYTimes Sunday, Nov. 30,
>>asked how many names of male, female, and young four-footed animals
>>could be traced in the given five-by-five letter grid.  I think his
>>solution (yesterday, Dec. 7) is unfair.
>>Shortz allowed "cow", presumably because one definition is
>>gender-specific (the female bovine) and because there are names for
>>male bovines.  He explicitly disallowed "dog" (which can be traced in
>>the grid), presumably because the definition of dog is not gender-specific.
>>But one definition of "cow" is not gender-specific: "a domestic
>>bovine animal, whether a steer, bull, cow, or calf", so thereby it
>>should be excluded.  And one definition of "dog" is gender-specific:
>>"the male of a canine", so thereby it should be permitted.
>Shortz could be seen as making an (implicit) empirical claim about
>the *primar* sense of each lexical item, while (implicitly) allowing
>that both are indeed polysemous.  In that sense, I'd say it's a
>defensible claim: the primary sense (statistically and
>psychologically) of "dog", as reflected in most if not all
>dictionaries, is non-gender-specific.  Lassie would normally (at
>least by non-dog-breeders) be called an intelligent (friendly,
>attractive,...) dog, not an intelligent (friendly, attractive,...)
>bitch (ignoring the fact that the actors who have played her were in
>fact non-bitch doggies), and if I said I gave my kids a dog for
>Christmas, you wouldn't be on safe ground to infer it was a male one.
>For me, the 'male canis familiaris' sense only arises (outside of
>lexical semantics discussions) when there's a direct opposition with
>'bitch'. The "cow" case is trickier, but arguably the primary sense
>here is the one opposed to "bull", with gender (or sex) built in.  As
>Lyons put it (I may be paraphrasing here), "a bitch is a female dog"
>is a straightforward identification claim or definition, while "a
>bull is a male cow" is a metalinguistic claim (i.e. bulls are the
>male counterparts of cows).  That being said, when I grew up in NYC,
>"cow" was a general non-gender-specific term for bovines.  But what
>did *we* did know from cows?
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list