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I'm a volunteer at the Zoo. I conduct excursions for the disadvantaged/terminally ill kids. My excursions are, like, interactive lectures where, among other things, I get the kids acquainted with proper names for animals, e.g. wolf is a common name for a lupid/lupine and such.

Today one kid put me on the spot and at a loss at the same time by asking, "Is there any difference between an ursine and an ursid?".

  • By the way, Ursid is just a fancy word for Bear (as in brown bear). – user74809 Oct 11 '14 at 23:02
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    There's a biological difference; Ursid refers to any species (or individual of a species) that belongs to the Family Ursidae, which includes all bears. Ursine, on the other hand, refers to any species or individuals belonging to the Subfamily Ursinae of the Family Ursidae. The suffixes tell the taxonomic rank at a glance; there's regular morphology in biological taxonomics. – John Lawler Oct 11 '14 at 23:44
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    It's just different; I don't know exactly why 'feline' is both noun and adjective, and 'ursine' is not. But this is really beside the point — English is full of hard-to-explain anomalies of this kind. The relevant point is how the words are used in practice, not how one might wish they are used. This is where dictionaries are a useful arbiter and record of usage — especially today, when there are large corpuses of data for lexicographers to draw upon. – Erik Kowal Oct 12 '14 at 3:32
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    books.google.com/ngrams/… demonstrates a non-negligible frequency of ursine as a noun going back to the 1800s. You can add feline_NOUN,equine_NOUN to add some context, and then add canine_NOUN to put it all in perspective. – Jim Oct 12 '14 at 6:52
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    Sure, that's to be expected; The adjectival usage is clearly more prevalent. The point is ursine_NOUN is not negligible. – Jim Oct 13 '14 at 2:35
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They both relate to bears and the bear family. Each definition is thus

Ursid

A. adj. Of, pertaining, or belonging to the family Ursidae. B. sb. A mammal of this family.

Ursidae from Merriam Webster

a family of large powerful plantigrade carnivores including the bears and extinct related forms

Ursine from my OED2 again

Of or pertaining to, characteristic of, due to, a bear or bears.

So Ursine is an adjective while Ursid is both a noun and adjective. Ursid leans slightly to the classification whereas ursine leans to a bear's characteristics, e.g., size, power.

If I called a man who is big an ursine man/monstrosity, then I would be talking about his resemblance to a bear/having a characteristic of a bear. If I called him, figuratively an ursid, the same meaning is imparted. But if I said he had an ursid appetite, that wouldn't be very appropriate use because the appetite has nothing to with the family Ursidae

Ultimately, in this context, ursine and ursid are basically interchangeable because a bear does pertain to its characteristics and the family Ursidae.

  • This thing is that Ursine and Ursid are both nouns in my context. The older woman who trained me while pointing at a Bear said: "This is an ursine ,wee lads, from the family of Ursidae". And my script has Ursid and Ursine mostly as nouns, too... – user74809 Oct 11 '14 at 23:51
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    All I can say to that is that Ursine has been converted to a noun. Nothing wrong with that. – Jasper Locke Oct 12 '14 at 0:28
  • @user74809 - Trainer or not, I think the person who was coaching you was using 'ursine' incorrectly. If you look up both terms on the Onelook.com metadictionary, you will find that whichever individual dictionary hit you land on, 'ursid' is a noun, and 'ursine' is an adjective. The mere fact of working in a particular field does not guarantee that all its practitioners will use its specialized jargon in the standard manner. – Erik Kowal Oct 12 '14 at 2:18
  • I don't know, man, ursine as a noun raises none of my hackles just like opposite, belligerent, oppugnant and all the other latin-derived nouns/adjectives don't. – user74809 Oct 12 '14 at 2:46
  • @user74809 - The point isn't whether your hackles were raised by the use of 'ursine' as a noun. Your question asked (more or less) what the difference is between 'ursine' and 'urside', and I've cited dictionary evidence to show that the former is an adjective, and the latter is a noun. So unless you're going to concede that you intend to continue using 'ursine' as a noun despite the evidence I've provided that this would be a non-standard usage, I think it is incumbent on you to disavow your trainer's faulty use of the word. Sometimes it is you that is out of step, not the rest of the world. – Erik Kowal Oct 12 '14 at 2:55
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In comments, John Lawler answered:

There's a biological difference; Ursid refers to any species (or individual of a species) that belongs to the Family Ursidae, which includes all bears. Ursine, on the other hand, refers to any species or individuals belonging to the Subfamily Ursinae of the Family Ursidae. The suffixes tell the taxonomic rank at a glance; there's regular morphology in biological taxonomics.

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"Ursine" is an adjective (much like, say, bovine).

So, it's just a typographical error.

It's an important realization that, even in professional writing it is completely commonplace for typos to creep in. Here's a cartoon about the issue:

enter image description here

(Alert! Original contains vulgar language!)

There was a newspaper in the UK called the "Guardian" which was known in the trade as the "Gradian" because it had so many typos. I once saw cough Vulva for Volvo in the body copy of a newspaper ad for that fine brand, and that's in an expensive paid ad.


"scripts unlikely to change"

Nonsensical, commercial writing is edited continually, to remove typos.

"But by continuing using "Ursine" as a noun..."

No. It sounds exactly like the writer is uneducated. The situation couldn't be simpler.

(It's particularly embarrassing, if you will, when people "try to use fancy words" - and are clueless about them, particularly extreme examples such as: not even knowing if it is a noun.)

I'd simply read it out as Ursid, since it's a typo.

Note that it is totally commonplace for voice talent to simply correct a typo if you're reading from a script. Not even worth mentioning.

If the script said "I brought an ice cream at the shop," one would just read it out as "bought". You would never read the appalling mistake, since it's obviously nothing more than a typographic error.

Ditto, if a script has "aks anything you want" one would just read it as "ask".

Not a big deal right?

  • Gradian? I always thought it was the Grauniad. – Rand al'Thor Oct 6 '16 at 13:37

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