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If bovine means related to the cow or ox, what is the word that means related to the snake?

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    An important area of clarity: Do you want a word that means "snake-like", the way that bovine can mean "cow-like"? (In which case mplungjan's suggestion of serpentine is probably the word that would be most commonly understood.) Or do you want a word that means "related to the snake" in a more general sense, the way you can talk about "bovine diseases", "bovine anatomy", or "bovine behaviour" for topics related to cattle? You can't substitute serpentine in any of these cases.
    – AmeliaBR
    Nov 17, 2014 at 4:21
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    And of course "snake-like" is an adjective that means "snake-like".
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 17, 2014 at 19:58
  • I'm not altogether sure I agree with @AmeliaBR. I think serpentine can absolutely be used in the ways she's suggesting it cannot. "That snake caught a serpentine disease." (He caught a disease that only snakes can get.) Serpentine doesn't just refer to how a snake looks. I'm not sure where people are getting that idea. It simply means "having characteristics of, or similarities to a snake", nothing more, nothing less. It's literally no different than "bovine" other than it refers to snakes rather than cattle.
    – Calphool
    Nov 17, 2014 at 21:51
  • @JoeRounceville: Do you have examples of that usage? I can't find "serpentine" in google scholar in any sense that refers to the study of snakes, except for a studies of "serpentine motion" (e.g., snake-like movement in robots).
    – AmeliaBR
    Nov 18, 2014 at 2:15
  • @AmeliaBR: I'm not sure I follow you. The study of snakes is called "ophiology." That has nothing to do with the uses of the adjective "serpentine". Google Scholar doesn't represent all collected knowledge about the English language, and the OP didn't ask anything about scholarly works. However, since you brought it up, here's an example: jwildlifedis.org/doi/pdf/10.7589/0090-3558-2.4.111 This article speaks of "serpentine hosts" (snakes carrying a disease). "Serpentine" means "snake-like" because the suffix -ine means "like", and obviously "serpent" means "snake."
    – Calphool
    Nov 18, 2014 at 19:37

10 Answers 10

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Serpentine is the snake equivalent of bovine.

of or resembling a serpent (as in form or movement)

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/serpentine

Serpent - synonym of snake

Wikipedia :

Snakes are elongated, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes
...
All modern snakes are grouped within the suborder Serpentes in Linnean taxonomy,

Whereas Ophidia is a supergroup of lizards and snakes.

Ophidia is a group of squamate reptiles including modern snakes and all snake-like "lizards" closer to snakes than to other living groups of lizards.

I would however likely use reptilian or snake-like for descriptions of behaviour, viz her bovine eyes looked calmly at me

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    To be pedantic, 'serpentine' means 'like a snake' and is usually used to describe a very wavy wall or road or river. So a 'serpentine rash' would more likely evoke the idea of a rash that is wavy rather than a rash that snakes get.
    – Mitch
    Nov 15, 2014 at 0:44
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    Yes, and bovine means "cow-like" - a bovine look means dumb with big eyes...
    – mplungjan
    Nov 15, 2014 at 5:34
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    Yes, bovine can mean 'look or acting cow like' but the primary meaning of 'serpentine' is 'wavy'. EG "That man has a serpentine air about him" is confusing because in context it does sound like the man is personality like a snake (sneaky, beady eyed, reptilian) but the strongest connotation is that his personality is wavy shaped which is incongruous.
    – Mitch
    Nov 15, 2014 at 14:56
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    Sinuous is the winding, not the being snakelike. I however expect the behavior of a snake to be reptilian as posted elsewhere.
    – mplungjan
    Nov 16, 2014 at 5:45
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    Here's a pretty exhaustive list of adjectives for other animals, as well: davekoelle.com/animal_terms.html The author pulled the words from multiple sources, so there is no info about past usage there, but it's still a nice list.
    – Jason C
    Nov 17, 2014 at 7:18
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Phrontistery has a list of suitable words:

ophic of, like or pertaining to serpents
ophidian of or like a snake
ophiomormous snakelike
ophiomorphic shaped like a snake

OED has ophiomorphic Having or resembling the form of a serpent; snakelike, and gives its etymology as deriving from ancient Greek ὄϕις serpent

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  • Except who uses that word and how much does it resemble bovine compared to serpentine?
    – mplungjan
    Nov 14, 2014 at 15:50
  • @mplungjan I merely answered the question. I'm not responsible for voting on the answer. One could always coin ophidine or ophisine.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 14, 2014 at 15:53
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    Ophidia is a group of squamate reptiles including modern snakes and all snake-like "lizards" closer to snakes than to other living groups of lizards.
    – mplungjan
    Nov 14, 2014 at 15:55
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    Again, the fact that a class is named after the Greek word ὄϕις doesn't alter the link between ὄϕις serpent and ophiomorphic "snake-like".
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 14, 2014 at 15:59
  • I have used the word "ophidian" this year in conversation.
    – barbecue
    Nov 17, 2014 at 0:52
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A word derived from the Latin for snake, anguis, is anguiform.

Having the shape of a serpent or snake; snake-shaped.

[OED]

A word which resembles bovine is anguine.

Of or resembling a snake or serpent.

[OED]

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    Anguilla is an EEL!
    – mplungjan
    Nov 14, 2014 at 15:59
  • @mplungjan Oops. Finger-memory. Thanks.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 14, 2014 at 16:01
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    @mplungjan And "anguilliform" means "eel-like", presumably because eels look a bit like snakes. Nov 14, 2014 at 16:36
  • Technically speaking "-form" means "having the outward shape and characteristics of -------". It's not exactly the same as -like, since -like implies more than just form.
    – Calphool
    Nov 17, 2014 at 22:13
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My humble Pocket Oxford Dictionary says simply: snaky. If you want to describe someone in a negative way, perhaps treacherous would do the trick.

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  • I think a lot depends on the context. If I were writing a thesis, I wouldn't use "snaky" because it sounds a little childish. However, if I were writing a fairy tale, I might.
    – Calphool
    Nov 17, 2014 at 22:21
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Reptilian wasn't mentioned. Serpentine is good but doesn't have the negative connotation.

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  • Negative connotations like bovine has ? - Reptiles are also crocs and turtles
    – mplungjan
    Nov 14, 2014 at 16:57
  • No. Bovine rings up the quaint environment of a rural pasture... Pretty neutral
    – Ahmed
    Nov 14, 2014 at 16:59
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    I know, hence the question. I did not see the need for negative connotations :)
    – mplungjan
    Nov 14, 2014 at 17:01
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    Sometimes if you want to describe a person as an animal you might want to be positive or negative about it... "The reptilian part of him took over" "he lithely snaked his way up the mountain painting a serpentine trail from above"... Connotation can change according to sentence too..
    – Ahmed
    Nov 14, 2014 at 17:06
  • Serpentine most certainly can have a negative connotation; don't forget that the great villain of the world's most popular creation myth is a serpent. Nov 15, 2014 at 12:22
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You shouldn’t expect the average unstudied English monoglot to know the word, but the OED gives as the primary sense of the adjective colubrine:

  1. Of, belonging to, or characteristic of a snake or serpent; snake-like.

One citation for that sense is:

  • 1883 P. Robinson in Harper’s Mag. Oct. 708/1
    The colubrine impossibility of springing off the ground at me.

A herpetologist might argue that this term more properly applies only to the Colubridae family of snakes. Perhaps so, but only in herpetology, where a colubrine is also used substantively. This leads to the OED’s second sense for that word:

  1. Zool. Of the nature of the Coluber or snake: applied to serpents, sometimes distinguished as true colubrine and venomous colubrine snakes.

In non-specialist use, colubrine is a more general term than that, one simply meaning “snaky” (itself a fine word), as the provided citation above illustrates. The word is of ancient pedigree, coming to us from Latin colubrinus for snake, and having cognates in neighboring languages, like Spanish culebra.

There are also specialized terms for other snake families, like viperine for viperish, pythonic for pythonlike, and elapine for sea-snakes.

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    'viperine' is less opaque and is more metaphorical out of context (sneaky or treacherous) like 'reptilian' is unfeeling or reactive.
    – Mitch
    Nov 16, 2014 at 18:03
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I think the best adjective is "snakelike" as used by Jack London

'The huge, snakelike body coiled and uncoiled about its prey.'

or

"He received no applause, and he squirmed through the ropes, snakelike, into the arms of his seconds"

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The formal Greek word for snake-like is ophioides, a compound of ophis and eidos (form). In English this becomes ophioid, similarly to words like asteroid, sigmoid (sigma-like or S-like) etc.

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    Ophidian was already posted. Ophidia is the supergroup of lizards and snakes and no-one use that in daily speach, whereas the word serpent has been used for snakes since the first bibles.
    – mplungjan
    Nov 14, 2014 at 22:11
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If you don't mind something a little recondite, you could try herpolhode. According to Goldstein in Classical Mechanics, this word originally meant snake-like, from which it was pressed into service with its current meaning:-

A herpolhode is the curve traced out by the endpoint of the angular velocity vector ω of a rigid rotor, a rotating rigid body.

which is indeed wiggly in most cases.

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I find the word "slithering" can be used as an adjective although it is rare but it certainly is descriptive of "snake-like".

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