Harrap's New Shorter French and English dictionary Ed. 1985, defines both verbal and adjectival "tame" as Americanisms for respectively "to cultivate" and "cultivated", as of a plant or a land [adj. 1.(b) NAm: (of plant, land) cultivé (cultivated, farmed, tilled)] and [v.tr. (b) NAm: (of plant, land) cultiver (to cultivate, to till, to farm)].

But then, checking on the definition online and searching the Net for examples, I realized these terms could also encompass respectively the sense "to domesticate" and "domesticated" -- i.e. to convert to domestic uses, as of farm animals -- but also, occasionally, coincide quite strangely with the sense "to farm, to raise" and "farmed, raised," as in "Our wild salmon compete with the organic tame salmon."

The subtlety to all of this is that in France we use "domestiquer" [to domesticate] as the general term to mean to reduce an animal from the wild to a domestic state. Then -- specifically -- we use:

"élever" [to raise] for farming;

"apprivoiser" [to domesticize, to housebreak] for pets, [to tame] birds, wild animals;

"dresser" [to tame or to break] for large or fierce or erratic animals (like elephants, horses, ornery dogs, etc.);

"dompter" [to tame] especially for lions and tigers;

and "cultiver" [to grow, to till, to cultivate] for plants and lands.

And so, saying "tame" for a plant or a farm animal (e.g. tame carrots, a tame lamb, tame salmon, etc.) sounds kind of unnatural to my ear.

Do any of these senses have any currency in AmEng today?

If "yes," how does saying "to grow (a carrot), to cultivate (a land)" and "to domesticate (a lamb, salmon)" differ respectively from saying "to tame (a carrot, a land, a lamb, salmon)?

Consider these sourced examples:

"Domestic bird" means any tame poultry raised for food or as a pet, including but not limited to turkeys... source

He rendered about twenty-five pounds of tallow of each bear and discovered that it took less salt to cure bear bacon than it did wild or tame beef, venison... source

There is a debate in the relationship of "wild" and "farmed or tame" salmon. source

Trying to tame tomatoes? I am. I'm a beginner to growing veggies and fruits... source

One word of caution tho -- if you have wild carrots in the area your tame carrots will cross with them. source


  • You mean in sentences like: "As white culture moved westward through the nineteenth century, it left behind an expanding area of 'tamed' land-and a burgeoning population inclined to romanticize the retreating wilderness"? Or: "Before the advent of Europeans and the imposition of foreign notions of land tenure, which divided up the land that it might be rendered tame, land was not "owned" in a modern sense."? Mar 25, 2014 at 19:09
  • One thing I have observed in a limited exposure to the French language is that there are set phrases and terminology that are rarely deviated from. In English, we love to use metaphors to the point where they become mainstream and even new metaphors a readily acceptable. To tame a plant as if it were a wild beast could be a vivid way to imply something special in the context where it is used. Mar 25, 2014 at 19:10
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    To use 'tame' in this fashion is stretching a metaphor a little too thin. I'm sure people use it, but it sounds strange to me. 'Domesticate' is the preferred term in AmE.
    – Mitch
    Mar 25, 2014 at 20:22
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    Yeah, tame can be used in all your examples, but AmE speakers would use other words for most of them. I'm used to breaking horses! housebreaking dogs and cats, training tigers, raising or farming salmon. I like the idea of tame carrots and tomatoes, but I wouldn't waist my time taming a wild tomato or eating a non-domestic apple.
    – Mike
    Mar 25, 2014 at 22:00
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    "Tame" is often used in a humorous sense for a wide range of things (e.g. a "tame expert" may be someone who's reliably helpful; like "domesticated" it's sometimes used of people to mean they are good at domestic tasks or like being at home) - "tame carrots" is probably this; using a word for lions to apply to carrots is funny. Your question is a bit too vague and general - it helps to ask about a specific thing, not several questions at once.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 4, 2023 at 12:02

4 Answers 4


I find U.S. usage of "tame" in connection with plants and animals to be highly variable. My grandfather raised (not "grew") Angus cattle on a farm in Texas. As a breed, Angus are relatively gentle for beef cattle (compared to, say, Brahmas, which often show up in the bull-riding portion of rodeo competitions because they tend to be so unruly); but my grandfather wouldn't have said that all of the animals in his herd were "tame," because "tame" implied not merely "domesticated" (as all cattle are) but "friendly toward and at ease with humans." A few of the cattle on his farm were tame in that sense, but most weren't. They were wary of humans, startled fairly easily, and responded somewhat unpredictably even in interactions in which the humans acted very consistently.

In Texas farm usage, as applied to animals, "tame" tended (and probably still tends) to be used in connection with wild animals that are raised from infancy as pets (a "tame deer" for instance, or a "tame raccoon") or to domesticated animals that are broken of their skittishness or intolerance of human contact (hence, a "tame horse" is one that accepts being saddled and ridden). In circus talk, a person who trains wild but captive lions to perform tricks may be called a "lion tamer," but the "taming" really amounts to "teaching to perform specific actions in response to specific instructions, and to behave relatively predictably." It is far more accurate, I think, to refer to a seal or a tiger or an orca that performs tricks in front of human audiences as "trained" than as "tame."

Many urban people throughout the United States do seem to use "tame" quite broadly for any animal that isn't wild and in the wild. Still, the standard U.S. term for a salmon or catfish or tilapia raised in captivity rather than caught in the wild is "farm-raised," not "tame."

As for the vegetable kingdom, I have primarily heard "tame" used in connection with denatured (or blanded out) peppers: A "tame jalapeño" is one that has been bred to possess far lass capsaicin (the chemical that binds to your tongue and produces an intense burning sensation) and thus to be unusually mild. The domesticated plant counterpart to, say, a "wild plum" is generally referred to as a "cultivated plum."

In your "taming tomatoes" example, I suspect that the usage refers to removing suckers (the little shoots that sprout between existing stems and the main stalk of the plant and divert the plant's energies away from its fruit) and otherwise encouraging the plant to grow to a desired shape. That strikes me as being a very informal way of speaking. When people direct a bean plant or a grape vine around a supporting structure, they are generally said to be "training" the plant. Maybe that's what the tomato person meant to say instead of "tame."

And finally, though people in the United States speak far too often about "growing businesses," they almost never talk about taming them.

  • Some people are careful to distinguish "domesticated" (i.e. bred to be non-hostile) and "tame" (raised to be hostile) but I'm not sure how many people are aware of this distinction; certainly "tame" is often used for both.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 4, 2023 at 12:00

Your above comment to your own posting is spot on, I feel. English is very much accommodating to new and creative metaphors. From native Englishspeakers' perspective, it's one of the strengths of the English language. From a non-native speaker's perspective, however, it could be downright confusing and hence a weakness.

Speaking as a Yank and an AmEng speaker, almost anything in AE can be tamed.

Americans in the eighteenth century tamed the wild beast of monarchialism, first through revolution, and then through democratic debate, compromise, and a Constitution.

The early settlers to the American West, however that may be defined, tamed the wilderness and carved out for themselves enclaves of safety, self-sufficiency, as well as interdependence.

Sally managed to tame her hate-spewing mouth when she found religion.

Jim seemed to tame his wandering eye when he met and married Linda, with whom he was deeply in love. Thereafter, he had eyes only for her.

Harold tamed his tendency to speak his mind, but only after learning about the necessity of being diplomatic, especially among people he barely knew.

I'm not so hungry that my appetite can't be tamed. Let's search for a more suitable restaurant than this one.

Obviously, Americans also speak of taming animals. Do we tend to take the concept of taming to the far reaches of imagery? Moreover, is this a bad thing? You be the judge.

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    Actually, all of the senses you described are easily perceivable to my nonnative mind. What I can't seem to latch onto is that "tame" can be used in the sense "cultivate" as in "The fishmonger sells tame salmon", "I never eat tame apples", etc.
    – Elian
    Mar 25, 2014 at 19:57
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    Your last two senses of "tame" are not common to AE, at least the AE I speak! Now if you're talking about the proprietor of a pet store who sells tame (or tamed) critters which are normally vicious toward humans, well . . ., that's a horse of a different color (so to speak!). Mar 25, 2014 at 20:14
  • I mean "tame" as defined by RH herein. Def. 6 & 11 thefreedictionary.com/tame
    – Elian
    Mar 25, 2014 at 20:30
  • What's all this "Americans are good at creating metaphors"? Tub-thumping nationalism! What you should be saying is "Anglophones (and the English language) are very accommodating of metaphors and other figurative usages". Mar 25, 2014 at 20:40
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    I don't think I've ever heard tame salmon, tame chicken, or tame apples. On the other hand, tamed land seems to be in use, doesn't sound so strange to me, and clearly means cultivated land. Mar 25, 2014 at 20:52

The word "tame" is most frequently used to refer to individual instances of taming. For example, I might tame a snake or a tiger. The tiger in question remains a wild animal, but it has been trained or habituated to not express its natural wildness.

However, if I "domesticate" something, this is most often used to indicate that I have created a new subspecies or variety of a plant or animal. The dog, for example, is a mere subspecies of wolf, and can interbreed with its wild counterpart, but it is domesticated, and is not a tamed wolf.

I might say of a particular lion, that I had tamed it, but I would not say that I had domesticated it.

However, it might be said of a woman that she had managed to finally domesticate her husband. Although I do recognize that Shakespeare titled his play "The Taming of the Shrew" rather than "The Domesticating of the Shrew". Possibly because the play on words (i.e. using the term "shrew" for a sharp-tongued and willful woman) demanded it. Or most likely because "domesticate" did not come into use until after The Bard's death.


A "tame" animal is one that has been habituated to interactions with humans. Were one to escape, it would revert to wild status.

A "domesticated" animal is one that has been subjected to selective breeding. Were one to escape, it becomes a feral animal. The genetics do not get undone. Indeed, when feral animals and plants do not interbreed with the wild stock they came from, biologists can detect that they are feral many generations after.

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