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Someone on the BBC lunchtime news today referred to a dog fox.

The word dog is both generic and applied to both sexes, as well as being used to describe a male. Only context reveals whether a person is talking about dogs in general or a male dog, as opposed to a bitch.

Is it not the same with fox and vixen? Or are we required, when specifying a male fox to use dog fox?

The OED would not appear to recognise any sense of fox as referring to a male only, in the way that it does with dog.

Are there other species where the gender distinction is only achieved by reference to a different genus?

  • Just seen your last sentence - that's my evening research planned! – Ste May 31 '16 at 16:14
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    If you consider "cow" to be the singular designation for bovine cattle (regardless of gender), then that word as applied to animals such as a female moose would qualify. – Sven Yargs May 31 '16 at 19:27
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    Have you tried asking a fox to see what the fox says? – xdhmoore May 31 '16 at 21:59
  • Why don't we say "she's vixenly?" – TRomano May 31 '16 at 22:27
  • @SvenYargs Yes, I believe cow is a good example. It gets used for various animals, as does bull e.g. for elephants. I think sow and boar also extend well beyond pigs. Personally I wouldn't use cow as a generic word for bovines. But that's just because I was a country boy. – WS2 Jun 1 '16 at 5:59
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When used together, "fox and vixen" sufficiently implies males and female.

However, "I saw a fox" does not imply gender, just like "dog" as you mention. In usual context, one does not need to identify the gender so "fox" is all that is required:

  1. Fox populations have increased by x%....
  2. Foxes are great
  3. I have a pet fox

If context does require the gender, then you will need to use dog, tod or reynard fox to illustrate the gender (although "tod" and "reynard" have literary origins and are less likely to be understood):

Vulpine studies have shown that the vixen outlives the dog fox by x number of years...

Although in reality you're probably better off saying:

Vulpine studies have shown that the female outlives the male fox by x number of years...

And to support my answer, Chris Packham has replied to my tweet, "dog and vixen" - so there you have it from a highly-authorative source!

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    First time I've seen an answer with a tweet message from an expert. :-) – user140086 May 31 '16 at 16:42
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Ngram actually shows that "dog fox" is more used than "male fox".

Dog fox:

  • a male fox:

    • No doubt an old vixen, with no cubs of her own, killed his; the dog fox will not do this.

Its usage dates back to the end of the 16th century.

  • In ordinary speech "male fox" is probably more common usage.

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