Anteater. Jellyfish. Woodpecker. Prairie dog. And, of course, the woodchuck that can’t even chuck wood. We take these names for granted, but the fact is that word-for-word animal names are downright goofy with a set of fresh eyes. That’s why it’s such a joy to look at how foreign languages around the world choose to name animals. Won’t you join us on this journey of linguistic belly laughs?
Around the World in 18 Chuckles: Animals With Hilarious Names in Foreign Languages
#1: Bat in French
(Bald Mouse) Clearly, the person in charge of naming animals in French took one look at a bat and thought, “This animal is exactly like a mouse, except in how little hair it has.” After hastily writing down “bald mouse,” the linguist saw the bat take flight and yelled, “Sacré bleu! Maybe I should have looked at that animal for few more seconds before picking that name!”
#2: Gecko in Mandarin
(Wall Tiger) There’s just something delightful about harmless little critters being given dangerous names. Perhaps this is part of a long-running prank that allows Chinese people to tell tourists, “Goodnight! Sleep tight! Don’t let the wall tigers bite!” That probably doesn’t rhyme in Mandarin.
#3: Meerkat in German
(Little Earth Man) Yes! Just look at that little earth man, standing on two legs on top of his earth mound. Give him a little briefcase and send him to his little desk job.
#4: Ox in French
(Beef) In contrast to English, French has two different words for a living chicken (poule) and cooked chicken (poulet). What it does not have is two different words for cooked cow and live oxen, both of which are somehow beef (boeuf).
#5: Sloth in Spanish, French, German and more. Including English!
(Lazy) We’ve gotten so used to hearing about sloths as an animal that we sometimes forget they were named for the deadly sin of laziness. That seems mean. Sure, they’re slow, but they’re so cute! How about we call them leisure pals? Or molasses bears?
#6: Owl in Mandarin
(Cat Head Eagle) Visually, this is pretty spot-on. It turns out there are a lot of things named after cats in Mandarin, including the Bear Cat (the Panda) and the Cat King (no joke—Elvis Presley).
#7: Avocado in French
(Lawyer) In French, the same word is used for lawyers and avocados. Hence the existence of the two French Wikipedia pages, Lawyer (Job) or Lawyer (Fruit). And yes, avocados are technically an animal and DO belong on this list, because you don’t have to pay extra for guac if you skip the meat at Chipotle. That’s just science.
#8: Armadillo in German
(Belt Animal) Much like the bald mouse, this seems to be another case of a way-too-hastily named animal. Sure, armadillos DO look like they’re wearing between eight and twelve belts, but the real headline is that they roll into a cute little ball when threatened. Petition to change the name to ball animal? Roll buddy? Curl pup?
#9: Moth in French
(Night Butterfly) You may well have had this same idea as a child. Just as all dogs were boys and all cats were girls, moths were just night butterflies, and the world made complete sense. By the way, where DO butterflies go at night?