Zoomorphism is a way to describe people, places, and things with animal attributes. It is common in idioms, literature, and pop culture.
The comparisons are not often literal, but they can be when under the branch of shapeshifting in fiction. They can be fun to use or help one better describe something that is easiest to link to an animal attribute.
What is Zoomorphism?
Zoomorphism is the act of describing something that’s not an animal with animal qualities. The term is vast as it can also include giving one animal traits to another or even a type of zoomorphism called “therianthrope,” which describes humans that can shapeshift into animals.
Therianthrope is a branch of zoomorphism in line with the original meaning because “zoomorphism” literally translates into “animal form” in Greek. In our language today, zoomorphism is a device we use as a metaphor to describe traits vividly and clearly.
While zoomorphism is most often used to describe humans, it can also be used for objects. This is rare but important, especially when learning a new language and you hear these expressions that you may take literally.
This also differs from chremamorphism, which is assigning object features to humans.
Despite popular belief, zoomorphism does not have any direct religious or pagan ties. It is simply a metaphoric way of describing things that are not animals.
Anthropomorphism vs. Zoomorphism: What’s The Difference?
The terms zoomorphism and anthropomorphism are often confusing, but they are, in fact, opposites. Anthropomorphism is giving human attributes to animals/objects. Zoomorphism is giving animal attributes to humans/objects.
For example, Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast and Mickey Mouse are anthropomorphic. Or saying that the wind is angry (a human emotion.) The examples of zoomorphism are even more common.
Examples of Zoomorphism
Zoomorphism is so widely used today that it’s easy to spot. But remembering these examples off the top of your head may be difficult.
One of the most popular ways to use zoomorphism is in literature. This is also one of the oldest sources of the literary device, with some dating back thousands of years.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and others, compare humans to donkeys
- The Life of Pi uses phrases like “ate like an animal.”
- “Fame is a bee” by Emily Dickinson
- The Island of Doctor Moreau introduced Beast Folk (though borderline anamorphic)
- “…they shall mount up with wings like eagles…” – Isaiah 40:31
- “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove…” – Luke 3:22
- “…wiser than the birds in the sky” – Job 35:11
- “…I have become like a lonely bird on a housetop…” – Psalms 102:7
- The Egyptian Sphinx had the head of a woman, a lion’s body, the wings of an eagle
- In Hinduism, Garuda is depicted as an eagle
- Cernunnos, a Wiccan god with antlers
- St. Christopher is often shown with the head of a dog
Pop culture is a fun way to use zoomorphism. It’s a common misconception that characters like Judy Hopps, Lola Bunny, and Sonic the Hedgehog are zoomorphic. They are anamorphic because they are animals with human traits.
- Black Panther
This is seen in band names:
- The Monkees
- The Gorillaz
- The Beatles
- Snoop Dog
Or in songs:
- “Hound Dog” by Elvis
- “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
- “She Wolf” by Shakira
- “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- “Bat Out of Hell” by Meat Loaf
Movies and TV
- Sweet Tooth (a perfect example of zoomorphism)
- When the kid at Pleasure Island in Pinnochio turned into a donkey
- The Fly character
- Many anime characters, such as Blair from “Soul Eater”
- Miqote and Viera in FFXIV
- Lethe from Fire Emblem
- Ahri (and other characters) from League of Legends
- “Chicken out”
- “Monkey see, monkey do”
- “Mad as a hornet”
- “Straight from the horse’s mouth”
- “Night owl”
- “Social butterfly”
- “Strong as an ox”