A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Does every type of animal dropping have its own name?

April 30, 1982

Dear Cecil:

Whilst reading through a (fictional) account of King Arthur's childhood, we came upon the word fewmet. The book explained that the droppings of the beast for which one might quest were fewmets, and that a knight on such a quest might carry some with him (one assumes for comparative purposes). The Oxford English Dictionary was consulted. It said that fewmets, with various spellings, refer specifically to deer droppings. The specificity of the reference moves me ask you, our illustrious illuminator, this question: does this imply that there are other, equally specific terms for the droppings of other beasts? That is, for every gaggle, pride, exaltation, flock, etc., there are left behind trails of things which have names? That there may have been a taxonomist hard at work naming all these creations and that his labors are forgotten should surely tug at the heartstrings of all sensitive Straight Dope readers.

Cecil replies:

Jimbo, you're a man after my own heart. I wouldn't go so far as to say every sort of animal caca has a name, but a surprising number do. We have tath, cattle dung; spraints, otter dung; bodewash, cow dung; the familiar guano, seafowl excrement used as fertilizer; wormcast, a cylindrical mass of earth voided by an earthworm; and coprolite, fossil excrement — e.g., dinosaur poop. For completeness' sake we ought to include cowpies and buffalo chips.

A related word is jumentous, pertaining to the smell of horse urine. Nor can we forget ichthyomancy, fortune-telling with fish offal, or spatilomancy, fortune-telling by investigating animal droppings. Other milestones in the fecal vocabulary, as long as we're on the subject, are shardborn, born in dung; stercoricolous, living in dung; and sterquilinian, pertaining to a dunghill. This last one has many obvious applications in interoffice memo writing.

But let's not confine ourselves to excremental matters. There are an amazing number of obscure animal appurtenances that have names attached to them, a mere fraction of which we can relate here: gleet, hawk stomach phlegm (I'm not making this up); curpin, a bird's behind; numbles, edible deer innards; dowcet, a deer testicle; fenks, leftover whale blubber used as manure; axunge, goose grease; pulicous, abounding with fleas; and crapaudine, a horse's ulcer. Useful verbs are blissom, to copulate with a ewe; and caponize, to castrate a chicken. For gourmets we have ranivorous, frog-eating; and scolecophagous, worm-eating. In the animal mania department there is formication, the feeling that bugs are crawling over you; boanthropy, the delusion that you're an ox; cynanthropy, the fantasy that you're a dog; and galeanthropy, the nightmare that you're a cat. Most of the preceding come from Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words, by Josefa Heifetz Byrne, a volume no aspiring know-it-all dare be without.

More of the same

Dear Cecil:

This devoted fan (teem as I may, I can hardly imagine 999,999 more like me) finds she must take you to task for your woefully inadequate discussion of terminology for animal excrement. Surely you can appreciate the importance of thoroughness in this regard. Imagine how mortifying for an educated person to have to refer to a pile of animal leavings as "poop" or "doodoo" for lack of the proper term. I enclose copies of a couple pages on the subject from Cyril Hare's Language of Field Sports, which is the locus classicus for this stuff: Hart and all deer — fewmets; hare — crotiles, crotisings; boar — lesses; fox — billitting; other vermin (Hare's term) — fuants; otter — spraints; hawk — mutes. Let me also add scumber for dogs.

Cecil replies:

Really now, Avise. "Poop"? "Doodoo"? I'm trying to run a respectable column here. All the terms you mention check out in the Oxford English Dictionary, allowing for some variation in spelling. The OED also offers buttons, sheep droppings, and suggests that lesses may issue from a bear or wolf as well as a boar. Be that as it may, you've helped expand the pitiful reaches of human knowledge. I'll send you a six-pack as soon as I start collecting on the tankload the Teeming Millions owe me.

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