16

The noun, dog, can be used to indicate something of an unattractive/unworthy feature/quality.

Merriam-Webster defines it as

8: one inferior of its kind

the movie was a dog : such as a: an investment not worth its price

b: an undesirable piece of merchandise

What animal(s), if any, do we use for the opposite, the adored/worthy objects?

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    There is no animal that has that meaning. You might say masterpiece. – Jason Bassford Dec 10 '19 at 1:11
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    We lionize people... dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/lionize – JavaLatte Dec 10 '19 at 2:33
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    For people, we have "king of the jungle" or "top dog" but I've not heard of one for objects / products. I'd also never heard of this kind of usage for "dog", so YMMV. – John Hamilton Dec 10 '19 at 11:49
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    Maybe slang - but calling something 'a dog' is common enough in England. Conversely the 'dogs danglies' or similar (more uncouth) phrases can and are used to mean the opposite. I.e. 'That Ferrari is the dogs danglies' (the Ferrrari is superflous in it's greatness) compared with - 'That Lada is an absolute dog' (don't buy the Lada - it's rubbish). – charmer Dec 10 '19 at 16:27
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    @charmer Perhaps in parts of England. I'm English and I've never heard this usage (except specifically about unattractive women). – Anthony Grist Dec 10 '19 at 20:30

12 Answers 12

22

It's not an exact opposite, but the mythical animal "unicorn" is sometimes used as a description for people and things that are so rare and special that they may seem nearly mythical. For instance, at my company, the most senior developers are jokingly referred to as "unicorns" because it's very rare for a developer to get promoted to that level --there are very few of them in the whole company.

Also --it's outdated slang at this point, but at one time "dog" and "fox" were paired opposites meaning "ugly" and "beautiful" in reference to people (most often used by boys when talking about girls). Thus "she's a dog" and "she's a fox" would be two sentences using this slang, but with opposite meanings. These usages would likely be received as offensive in modern conversation (or at least the first one would --you still occasionally do hear "she's a fox" or "he's a fox"). As noted in the comments below, vixen (literally "female fox") has a similar meaning and usage, but is more explicitly sexual, which makes it more likely to be received as offensive.

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  • Unicorn and Fox are both good although I think fox is better. Tiger is another one. In fact most phrases of the form "<attribute> as a <animal>" could work. Strong as an ox etc – Eric Nolan Dec 10 '19 at 20:20
  • Great answer!@ Good one! – Fattie Dec 11 '19 at 18:35
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    Completely random point, a lot of new English users don't realize that "vixen" is a "female fox". (Come to think of it, I bet many native speakers don't know that, which is depressing.) – Fattie Dec 11 '19 at 18:37
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    Great care and consideration regarding decorum should be taken when ascribing unicorn, fox, or vixen to humans. They are all primarily sexual in nature without a special context such as @Chris Sunami's usage. – Yorik Dec 11 '19 at 22:51
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    @Yorik Fox and especially vixen are certainly sexually charged terms, but unicorn has no sexual connotations at all in my opinion. – Aeon Akechi Dec 11 '19 at 23:09
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The slang word "beast" can be used to describe something that's awesome. For example:

This movie was a BEAST, cast wonderfully, directed excellently, acted superbly and just all around incredible, and the theme of the movie "Hero" by Chad Kroger is officially my theme song for whenever it's time for me to get down to business.

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  • Be aware of potentially unsavoury meanings, though, especially for people: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/beast – LMS Dec 10 '19 at 16:30
  • Also used as an adjective in the form "beasty," which is less common, but more unambigiously positive --"that movie was beasty". Not to be confused with "beastly" which is neither slang nor positive. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Dec 10 '19 at 18:09
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    Calling something “a beast” isn’t quite saying it’s good, so much as powerful or impressive. It’s often positive, but not automatically. – PLL Dec 10 '19 at 19:10
  • @PLL - it's difficult for non-native speakers to really grasp the typical use of "beast", and also notably "beast mode" unless you are "in to" the US sports scene, particularly football. – Fattie Dec 11 '19 at 18:38
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Not exactly an animal but more of a part of an animal, but both of the following expressions can be used to express a worthy/positive experience:

bee's knees:

a highly admired person or thing

dog's b*llocks:

the best. It comes from the habit of male dog's licking their testicles and that they must taste good as they spend so much time in this activity.

In your example, you could say: That movie yesterday was the bee's knees/dog's b*llocks.

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    Of similar meaning (and similar vintage), there is also the expression "the cat's pajamas". – Meg Dec 10 '19 at 14:25
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    Warning for English learners: "dog's bollocks" may be considered as rude, offensive, even obscene in some parts of the Anglosphere. Even in England, there are social contexts where it would not be the right choice. – nigel222 Dec 10 '19 at 14:26
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    Obscene maybe. Rude or offensive? Nah mate. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 10 '19 at 17:03
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    As well, in Australia we use duck's nuts – mcalex Dec 11 '19 at 9:05
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    @mcalex - somewhat a contradiction in terms? Or are Aussi ducks different..? – Tim Dec 11 '19 at 14:43
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Many animal words in English have both positive and negative connotations, simultaneously. 'Dog' isn't always negative, but also also not always positive. The use of animal terms in relation of people is generally (but not always) used to denote a type of personality, not necessarily "good" or "bad". There are some exclusively bad or good though, so I'll try to make note of how each is perceived.

Swan

Swans are often used to describe grace and beauty, and are considered a superior animal compared to the duck. More upper-crusted in use. You can say something like, "She's an ugly duckling now, but she'll be a swan later." You can also say things like "She's a swan on the ice."... Downside is a swan is considered fragile and not down-to-earth. May sometimes be considered self-centered.

Ugly Duckling

Calling something an "Ugly Duckling" saying they're ugly now, that they stand out or look worse than their peers now, but will be a swan later.

Spring Chicken

Which means young and vibrant. So you can say, "She's a real spring chicken" or "I'm not a spring chicken anymore." That said, this is kind of dated terminology, and will make you sound like you're not a spring chicken. Also rural in origin. Has the negative connotation of being unexperienced.

Wolf

This means you're strong and independent ... but has a connotation of being a predator. "And the wolf went out on the dance floor."

Snake

This means clever and often (but not always) good looking ... but also not to be trusted. "And John came in, he was a real snake."

Dawg

Inner city slang. Opposed to "Dog", "Dawg" means a friend who is loyal and sticks close to you, even if they're both referencing the same animal. For example, "How's it going, Dawg?" Note that you must emphasize the "a" or it could be offensive due to being misinterpreted as "Dog".

Dog

Someone who is uncouth, uncultured, and unwise, but also very obedient and loyal... if handled properly. E.g. "Fred's a real dog..."

Prize Pig

Country slang. Means someone who is seen as high value and quality... to the right person, can be simultaneously complimenting and insulting. (Not to be confused with just "Pig" which is someone who is a slob.) For example, "Well, look at the prize pig up 'thar."

Pig

Someone who is messy and dirty and/or rude. Really not a positive connotation in any way. "He's a real pig." The rude meaning is almost exclusively used with men. HOWEVER... can also be a very rude way to refer to police officers. "Tony has the pigs on his back"

Showdog

Someone who looks good and is a showman... but also not very complicated. "Wow, look at the showdog up there."

Hoss

Believed by many to be a derivative of "Horse" (although possibly deriving from a celebrity named Hoss), inner city slang. "Hoss" means a very attractive male who is likely well-endowed in bed. Like "Dawg", the "a" sound is emphasized. Pronounced to it rhymes with "Sauce" e.g. "He's a real haws." Downside: There isn't much else to them.

Goose

Someone who's fun... but can also be a minor problem. For example, "She was just a silly goose." It's a pretty regional term though. Also, not be confused with the act of goosing, which is pinching someone's butt. (Not to be confused with "Golden Goose" which other answers here mention).

Parasite

This one is actually always bad. It means someone who takes from people constantly and never gives back.

Batty

People generally aren't called a bat, but they are called "Batty". It means kind of quirky, a little nuts, but generally harmless, and sometimes a source of amusement. "She's really batty." The one exception to not getting called a bat though is an older woman who can be called, specifically, "An old bat" which means about the same as batty or an older woman who is more emotionally cold.

Also, do not confuse with "Batman" which is a fictional character and being called "Batman" means you're being called rich, powerful, strong, larger than life, and there's a good chance it's not seriously meaning it. example: "I'm Batman"

Whale

Fat. Very fat. Also very insulting. Unless used in reference to online gaming, in which case it means someone rich who keeps free-to-play games free for everyone else by buying all the optional stuff. example for both: "She's a whale."

Shark

Someone clever, sneaky, predatory, and definitely out to get you, likely by scamming you in games of chance by having some unconventional skill like card counting. "Watch out for Lenny, he's a real card shark."

Jellyfish

Someone who can't stand up for themselves, synonym with "spineless". Example, "Don't be such a jellyfish."

Chicken

A Coward. Someone who runs at the first sign of trouble. Example, "What are you, Chicken?"

Cow

Fat. Not as bad as whale, however, unlike whale, doesn't mean they spend a lot at video games though. primarily used with women. Considered very rude, and would likely have nearby people get angry with you.

Alternatively, can mean an unpleasant woman.

Sheep

Mindless and obedient, cannot think for themselves... however, used in a positive context in religion to... mean pretty much the exact same thing. Example, "They are a bunch of sheep."

Worm

Someone who is always underfoot trying to appeal to superiors. Generally considered to have no redeeming qualities other than being an easy pawn to use who knows they're a pawn (and potentially dangerous if they see an opportunity to grab power for themselves.) "Lenny's a stooge and a real worm."

Unicorn

A unicorn can reference an ideal person for a certain situation that doesn't exist. For example, a business wanting to hire someone with 10 years of a experience with a program that's been out for 3 years, they're looking for a unicorn. (And if they do find such a person, such as the person who wrote the program and spent 10 years doing so before release, that person is a unicorn.) Example, "That last candidate was a unicorn. Don't lose them!" or "Who you're looking for a unicorn, you'll never find them."

Possibly starting as a derivative of the above, in the lgbtq subcultures, a unicorn means a sexually attractive and active woman who is bisexual and polyamorous. Or even simply someone single, gay, and available. Generally denotes someone desirable who is non-monogomous. Example, "He's a cute unicorn." or "We're having a get-together of local unicorns."

Stallion

Primarily means a sexually attractive and active man who enjoys many romantic entanglements. Can be either straight or gay. Generally denotes someone desirable who is non-monogomous.

Cold Fish

Someone is is not sexually active or romantically fulfilling. Generally used more insulting or referencing an unfulfilling marriage. "Poor Susan, she married a real cold fish."

Catty

People aren't generally called cats, but they are called Catty. This means someone who thinks they're better than other people, and is quick to point out the failings of others. Example, "Hey, don't be catty."

Not to be confused with "Catgirl" or "Catboy" which is used as Anime subculture slang to refer to someone who is playful, flirty, and cutely attractive.

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    @J.ChrisCompton I have heard wolf used that way too, as well as snake. I'll update just so there's different connotations used. – liljoshu Dec 11 '19 at 22:23
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    "If someone refers to an old person, especially an old woman, as an old bat, they think that person is silly, annoying, or unpleasant." Collins – Keith McClary Dec 12 '19 at 0:27
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    Unicorn - never heard of that meaning... more like pluralsight.com/blog/career/unicorn-employees – Alexei Levenkov Dec 12 '19 at 7:10
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    Ugly Duckling is a reference to the literary fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ugly_Duckling in which a bird grows up thinking it is an ugly duckling, only to later mature into a beautiful swan. – Caltor Dec 12 '19 at 13:46
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    I think your meaning of unicorn is a derivative of the primary meaning as someone or something exceedingly rare and quite possibly mythical --"Oh man, you've done it! You've found a unicorn!" It's not related to the sexual meaning of stallion. Other than that, a very good and comprehensive rundown of animal based terms in common English usage. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Dec 12 '19 at 20:00
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We don't use an animal to describe something superior.

The use of "dog" in this slang sense is quite obscure. I'd probably understand the meaning in context, but it is rare enough that I can't recall ever hearing it used. The general sense of "inferior thing" is not found in other dictionaries

The slang meaning seems to be derived from the general idea of dogs, and animals in general being inferior. There is no animal that commonly means "superior thing". But there is also no animal that commonly means "inferior thing".

That said, "whale" can be used figuratively for something that is large, and by extension important and excellent, in the idiom "a whale of a ...."

My own father only wrote one poem in his life as far as I know, but it was a whale of a lyric, the kind you would give your whole life to write...

The expression "A whale of a time" common enough in casual speech (but it is a cliché) Other uses of "whale" to mean "excellent" are rare. I would not recommend using either "dog" or "whale" figuratively if you want to write clearly.

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    @ James, not sure if this is another example of Am E vs Br E but this expression is not uncommon in the area of the US where I live. – B Chen Dec 10 '19 at 2:59
  • "The slang meaning seems to be derived from the general idea of dogs, and animals in general being inferior" - or a shortening of "dogshit", similar to "bull". – Maciej Stachowski Dec 10 '19 at 12:42
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    In my part of the US, it's not uncommon to hear something that's slow to be referred to as a "dog." "Man, that car is a dog coming off of the starting line." I do not know the etymology for why we use that word. – Cort Ammon Dec 10 '19 at 15:57
  • @CortAmmon-ReinstateMonica But then again to refer to a bad car in the US, you'd say "lemon". [E.g., the 24h of Lemons cup, riffing off the famous 24h of Lemans]. Above, "whale" is obviously big, so "whaling" on somebody is in a fight giving big powerful blows with little resistance. – user3445853 Dec 11 '19 at 7:10
  • I think the verb "whaling on someone" has a different etymology (with spelling influence by the name of the animal). It is, however, a different and non-cognate word. – James K Dec 11 '19 at 7:14
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"Stud!" "Stud-ly!" A stud being a male horse used for breading other horses. Indicating it has those desirable qualities worthy of surviving the gene pool. (Males typically view it a positive thing to be overused for ... reproduction ... not sure how a woman would feel about it, though.)

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3

Somewhat tenuous but you might also hear people mention a Golden Goose in reference to Aesop's fable of the goose that laid the golden egg, or a cash cow meaning a business venture that generates a steady return of profits.

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  • Aesop never mentioned that the goose was golden - only the egg she laid. The golden goose was from Brothers Grimm. – Tim Dec 11 '19 at 16:48
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    @Tim True, but it has become fairly common parlance in English to shorten this to "golden goose" as per the following statement from the Wikipedia article referenced. >The English idiom "Kill not the goose that lays the golden egg", sometimes shortened to "killing the golden goose", derives from this fable. (emphasis mine) – Caltor Dec 11 '19 at 16:52
  • Possibly, but that doesn't make much sense, as the goose was in fact normally coloured! I like the 'cash cow', and with that, one can milk the profits... – Tim Dec 11 '19 at 16:54
  • Language is funny like that sometimes. – Rohmer Dec 11 '19 at 17:13
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    Can confirm, the goose that lays the golden egg is often shortened to "the golden goose". – liljoshu Dec 11 '19 at 22:38
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A Bear can be a very tough, difficult task.

In general, using negative analogies to dogs is falling out of fashion: Dogs are members of our families. They protect our children and love us unconditionally. Most English speakers treat dogs with the same care and courtesy that they treat other people.

For example, when a terrorist gets "shot like a dog", it is common for people to retort "Don't insult dogs like that".

Update: You can also be busy as a beaver and you can be an eager beaver.

People with beautiful eyes can be doe eyed (A doe is a female deer).

People with a busy social calendars are social butterflies.

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    "Sick as a dog" is still used now and again, as evidenced in Google Ngram: books.google.com/ngrams/… – 79037662 Dec 10 '19 at 18:12
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    "Most English speakers treat dogs with the same care and courtesy that they treat other people." Some do, but I think most is an exaggeration. Many (but still possibly not most) treat dogs with more respect than most other animals, but I think most people will still put people first. I've never heard anyone object to "shot like a dog in the street". Maybe you are describing a regional thing. – Aaron Dec 11 '19 at 21:58
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'Mutt's nuts' comes to mind - rather like earlier answers, but far more poetic! And agreeable in most class-related situations!

EDIT: on the other hand, someone who has a high opinion of themselves might feel that they are the cat's whiskers. So, reference to an animal describing 'high quality' - if only in the eyes of the beholder!

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  • this is equivalent to the dog's proverbial from Nikos' answer. Also : premium, cherry, choice, primo, ripper, bonzer, champion (and perversely: sick or filthy). – mckenzm Dec 11 '19 at 15:41
  • @mckenzm - understood, although there is a modicum of decorum in 'mutt's nuts'. And all the other adjectives you offer are not animal related. – Tim Dec 11 '19 at 15:54
1

Another slang term is "cat's ass". Obviously you'd want to be careful where you use it.

That party was the cat's ass.

Wikipedia also mentions a few others (in conjunction with "cat's pajamas"), none of which I am even vaguely familiar with as a native speaker (Canada):

the snake's hips

the spider's ankles (Ireland)

the ant's pants (Australia)


We also have the much more mainstream lionhearted, meaning brave.

Traditionally young Masai men are consigned to a period of isolation in the bush in order to turn them into strong, lionhearted warriors

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  • "cat's ass" is something i have only heard old people who smoke crack from Ontario say until now. Is this an east coast thing or a crack head thing – Dmitri DB Dec 13 '19 at 1:32
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    @DmitriDB Ontario is not on any coast, but it might be an Eastern Canada thing, like bagged milk. I have never had any contact with drug subculture elements, with the possible exception of a musician or two, and I doubt crack would be their drug of choice. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 13 '19 at 2:14
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James mentioned bears. In another context we also have bear markets, i.e. when stocks are performing badly - and bull markets for when they're performing well. From this we can get more generally that one is feeling bullish.

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Goat.
While not necessarily referring to the animal, the acronym G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) is often used to describe exceptional things/people.

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