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.”
“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.”
“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.  


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18 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Perhaps anthropomorphising animals isn’t a good idea, but (while living with/ writing about animals) it’s still important to think from the animal’s point of view in order to imagine at least what is going on in their minds. Though animals are not four-legged humans, they still have their own intellectual, emotional and social lives. (IMHO)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know they have emotions, my black kitty was clearly depressed when his best tabby buddy died. He still goes and sits in the garden over his grave and if we say the tabby’s name too often he gets mopy. This was more about awareness to what anthropomorphism is and why its not always the best choice in certain styles of writing.


      • Yes, I know what you meant – I like your posts about styles of writing and linguistic choices. But I’d like to mention that we are guilty as well – when we attribute animal behaviour or personality to people 🙂 – e.g. ‘cat people’ or ‘dog people’, or calling someone a cow, or a pig – it’s outrageous! as these are very intelligent animals 😉
        I’ve always been fascinated with the human language that is so illogical, especially when it uses animals to convey human features. The best illustration of how hopeless we all are in our ability (disability?) to understand animals is our misleading metaphors, for example: ‘Birdbrain’ is a derogative term to mean a ‘stupid person’. In fact, the inability to grasp the intelligence of birds makes us look mentally retarded themselves 🙂

        Sorry, I’m not politically correct 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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