Anthropomorphize That!

Anthropomorphism. A mouthful of a word. It is the act of applying or imposing human form, behavior or emotions onto an animal or inanimate object.

In science the behavioral study of animals is strictly reduced to action and not attribution of emotion or feelings are permitted.

“The chickadee flew from branch to branch.”
or
“The male chickadee moved to the right of the female chickadee and touched sides.”

As writers we easily add emotion to animals etc. Because it’s what we do naturally.

“The chickadee flew excitedly from branch to branch.”
or
“The male chickadee snuggled up to the female lovingly.”

This tool is often found/used in children’s stories, science fiction, space operas etc. Stories like Lord of the rings or Winnie the Pooh. Where animals are given the ability to talk, walk, behave like the human champions we want them to be.

Examples of physical Anthropomorphism

The man in the moon
Cats, dogs, cows etc. that walk on two legs or use paws/hooves etc like hands.
Changing the face of an animal to be more human.
Giving appliances or plants faces. (Brave little toaster, Alice in wonderland, Beauty and the Beast)

Examples of Emotional Anthropomorphism

Suggesting expressions of any emotion from an animal or object. “The cat looked up at me with love.” or “The dog’s big eyes looked sad.”
The cat sat impatiently waiting for it’s dinner
The snake watched wearily as I approached. It looked angry and ready to strike.

Examples of Behavioral Anthropomorphism.

Any animal, insect or object that speaks a human language.
Having an animal pick up an object such as a fork or use a pencil.
Have an animal Drive car or spend money
Implying human behavior in animals: The bird looked thoughtfully at the cage door.
Having a flying broom do something funny that would require a sense of humor or thought.

Anthropomorphism is the reason we teach animals tricks. The added belief they are more like us makes us as humans happy. It is also why we fear things that are less like us. Things with more legs or eyes like insects and spiders. Things with fewer legs like snakes and sharks. Anything that we can’t associate a physical similarity to or a behavioral similarity. There will always be exceptions to this as with anything. However in general humans like human-like things.

I don’t have any animals in my stories as of yet nor objects that I apply human characteristics to. I have however read many that do. Whether it’s on purpose or by accident. From childrens stories right up to stories for adults.

This isn’t to say that you should or should not anthropomorphize animals or objects, just to be aware when you do it. If its purposeful like a giant talking spider or a car that flies and has attitude or a tree that doesn’t like trespassers, then by all means make it a character and more humanized.  However saying “The cellphone rang happily” instead of “The cellphone rang a happy tune”, makes a bit of difference to a more serious story.

My advice about Anthropomorphism. 
Unless you’re going for it specifically; be careful the sentence doesn’t become silly.  

-Sheryl

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Champion

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14 thoughts on “Anthropomorphize That!

  1. I guess my husband and I definitely anthropomorphized my late parrot. Actually, we really do believe he expressed true emotions and understood his communication. Like many pet owners we regarded our parrot as our little son or at least a treasured friend.

    I debated with my doctor once about whether or not my parrot loved or just had attachment to my husband and I. I adamantly believe he did in fact love. Especially when you’d look at his eyes and they’re expressions and his affection, it seemed clear. Parrots, in particular, are highly intelligent animals. They don’t just mimic people’s words. These often use words (human and their own) for specific purposes.

    We lost our little man about two months ago. It was devastating. I miss him dearly. He truly was company for me during these years I’ve been home. We played together and gave comfort to each other. We sometimes even bitched about each other.

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    1. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your parrot. I love birds and have had a few myself as pets. I personally have no problem with believing animals have emotions, they do in their own way. One of the hardest challenges was doing a study on an animal’s behavior without applying any anthropomorphic actions/behaviors. It’s hard to do. But that’s science for you, cold and calculated. 😉

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  2. I firmly believe animals show expressions on their face regarding emotion. I have an amazing cat who understand commands. I feel his expressions are on his face. Once he was going to jump up on my filing cabinet and my coffee was there. I told him not to hit the coffee. He immediately moved to the right jumped up on the filing cabinet and out the window. My daughter was visiting and astounded her jaw dropped. We have two cats now, one is adopted (kinda sorta) she’s my daughter’s cat but she’s taken up residence with us. She has taken over a chair and my cat decided to sleep on it. She was shocked and stood on both hind paws and stared in disbelief, it was hilarious to say the least. hehe
    Never heard this word before, but the explanation is brilliant, hehe.

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    1. It’s one of my favourite words. Cats are awesome. Mine both have very distinct personalities. Ones a total attention whore who does tricks like a dog, the other is cute and silly but likes her own space.

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          1. porsche is black and aptly named, he has the shortest legs I’ve ever seen on a cat but he runs like the wind, and can catch sparrow which are megafast. He’s apparantly called a Chantilly Lace and has a mane like a lion, but he looks like a mini panther so he’s quite a mix and personality to boot hehe

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          2. I love spending time with them, just watching them, let alone cuddling. They say cats are solitary, but have you noticed that where you go, they go? They want to be in the same room if not cuddling. I don’t think they are so solitary myself. hehe

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            1. I agree on the not so solitary. My little girl tortoise shell cannot be apart from my husband. My black cat always sneaks into his lap every chance he gets, its hilarious. They rarely go off alone.

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