animal diminutives

At the risk of straying too far off the sociology of information trail, may I report a conversation from this morning’s ride down to CASBS and request your assistance?

My ride partner mentioned a conversation with a “cub reporter” the other day.  Why, we wondered, is Ursus the right genus for journalists?  And what animal diminutives do we use for other professions?

If baby sharks are called pups, should new law firm associates be called pups? And those just getting started out in the human smuggling business? How about beginner loan sharks?  Or sleazy wheeler dealers at the start of their career: snakelets? Hatchlings?

If an editor has an eagle eye, is an editorial trainee a eaglet? Do others come to mind?

And back to the journalists: why are they bears?  OED gives first occurrence as 1899 J. L. Williams in Scribner’s Mag.25 277 “The cub reporter and the king of Spain.” and lists two other “cubs”: engineer and (river boat) pilot (both from M. Twain. And one of the definitions of “cub” is “An undeveloped, uncouth, unpolished youth” with the explanation that it comes from the idea that “the young of the bear was fabled to be born in a shapeless condition, and afterwards licked into shape by the mother” and the earliest usage is Shakespeare in “Twelfth Night” (1623).

So, let me put the question out there — do you know of any other animal diminutives that we apply to beginners in various professions or trades?

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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