Printable Version
Pronunciation: por-sain Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Related to swine: pigs and hogs.

Notes: Oink! Oink!English contains its own words naming animals: pig, sheep, cow, crab, and so on. But for adjectives indicating relations to these animals, it uses French (Latinate) adjectives: porcine, ovine, bovine, cancrine, and so on. Last year (2016) I had open heart surgery to install a porcine valve in my heart. They work better and last longer than mechanical valves.

In Play: English has adjectives based on the native words for animals, but they refer to characteristics we perceive in them. Thus piggish, sheepish, catty, dogged refer to negative characteristics we see in these animals. The adjectives on -ine, however, bear no negative connotations: "Pigs in Sweden live in the porcine equivalent of luxury hotels."

Word History: Middle English borrowed this word from Old French porcin, a descendant of Latin porcinus, an adjective based on porcus "pig". Latin acquired this word from Proto-Indo-European porko- "pig", which turned up in Old English fearh "little pig", today's farrow. We can see it in Modern German Ferkel "piglet". In Middle Dutch, it became varken "little pig", traces of which show up in aardvark, literally "earth pig". English borrowed porcelain from French porcelaine "cowry shell", from the resemblance of the shell to a pig's back. Porpoise came to Middle English from Old French porpeis, probably a reduction of a loan translation from a Germanic compound meaning "pig-fish", comprising Latin porcus + piscis "fish". (Today our gratitude is owed George Kovac for recommending ovine, which I spun into today's animated Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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