What is it called when a noun, that is part of a person, is described by a human's behavior ?

For example, "rebellious" hair:

Rebelliousness is a adjective for human action but frequently used to describe frizzy hair.

Another example, "stubborn" fat:

Describes difficulty losing weight.

What are these called?

  • 1
    I'm not sure what they are called, but they are well-accepted figures of speech - indeed much respected ones. It is a very good question. Others might be an angry silence, or a heart-stopping interlude.
    – WS2
    Jan 15, 2017 at 0:32
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    Related: My shoes can't think; how can they be sensible?
    – herisson
    Jan 15, 2017 at 0:38
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    @Centaurus well apologies. I had forgotten that the OP had restricted it to parts of the body. But transferred epithets of this kind apply to all sorts of things e.g. sensible shoes, shivering shorts, tired ideas, etc. It is worth looking at sumelic's link.
    – WS2
    Jan 15, 2017 at 0:50
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    Traditional rhetorical analysis uses the term 'transferred epithet' or the word 'hypellage' (from the Greek word for 'exchange') for examples like "a drunken brawl", "a nude photo", "their insane cackle" etc. I suppose one could include examples like yours in that category.
    – BillJ
    Jan 15, 2017 at 10:48
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    @BillJ: that looks like an answer. Can I suggest you copy it into one? Jan 15, 2017 at 11:58

5 Answers 5


It is called personification

: attribution of personal qualities; especially : representation of a thing or abstraction as a person or by the human form

or anthropomorphism

: an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics

They are used as literary devices.


I would say anthropomorphism, meaning attributing human traits or motivations to non-human entities such as animals or things.

  • 4
    +1 for a good idea. But it would be worth reading the related post to which @sumelic provided a link. A very high-scoring answer there calls it a transferred epithet.
    – WS2
    Jan 15, 2017 at 0:46
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    @WS2 Very interesting, but I think not on point for this question. All the examples adduced in that answer have to do with a person’s attributes being transferred to something associated with that person: their sleepless night, their shivering shorts. In this question, the person who has rebellious hair is not necessarily rebellious; the person with stubborn fat may not be stubborn.
    – Tom Zych
    Jan 15, 2017 at 0:52
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    Like all figures of speech, I suppose transferred epithets can be used in a variety of ways for different purposes and with divergent effects.
    – WS2
    Jan 15, 2017 at 10:44

Since your descriptions of behavior are all closely tied to human emotions, a close word would be anthropopathism. An anthropopathism is described at TFD as:

Attribution of human feelings to things not human, such as inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.

You would be describing the hair or the fat in an anthropopathic fashion when you ascribe to them the human feelings of being rebellious or stubborn. This word is not limited to human body parts, but could also be used for animals, inanimate objects, a deity, or natural phenomena.

  • The stubborn donkey
  • Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Ex 34:14)
  • The raging storm

In these examples, a human emotions are ascribed to non-humans.

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    Is stubbornness or rebelliousness really a feeling? It’s more of a character trait in my view. Jan 15, 2017 at 18:30
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    I'm going to appeal to the Greek roots here. The -morphe- in anthropomorphic refers to human form. The -pathos- in anthropopathic refers to feelings or emotions. Do you think that rebellion and stubbornness are closer to a human form? Or closer to a human emotion? I'm thinking they are much closer to an emotion (or passion) than they are to a form (or appearance).
    – rajah9
    Jan 15, 2017 at 20:36
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    That’s the old etymological fallacy raising its head, though: in Greek, ἀνθρωπόμορφος meant ‘of/in human shape’, but it doesn’t mean that in English. In English, it refers to “the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object” (ODO, my emphasis). Stubbornness and rebelliousness are obviously not physical human shapes, but they are human characteristics and behaviour. Jan 15, 2017 at 20:55
  • ..wait, but a Donkey can actually behave stubborn...right? Oct 20, 2019 at 4:48

The tendency of human psychology for anthropomorphism (attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities ) is reflected in literature through the use of the 'personification ' device.

But are we really trying to personify fat when it is cited as stubborn by the OP ? or is it the case of only using a human motif. Mere employment of human imagery does not constitute personification.

Is it( ever) 'The rebellious hair refusing to come to order', 'The stubborn fat has apparently decided not to budge' For personification - regardless to the extent or the trait considered - it is essential for the entity concerned - to be invested with a human ego.

*In literature, allusions are used to link concepts that the reader already has knowledge of, with concepts discussed in the story^ (Wikipedia)

My answer is as under

allusion əˈluːʒ(ə)n noun an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference. "an allusion to Shakespeare"

synonyms: reference to, mention of, comment on, remark about, citation of, quotation of, hint at, intimation of, suggestion of; implication, insinuation "the bird's name is doubtless an allusion to its raucous call"

the practice of making allusions.


These are generally called metaphors.

There are different types of metaphors: personification, anthropomorphism in particular (as mentioned above).


a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

If you read something and think "that is not logically / literally possible" then it is a (generally speaking) metaphor.

It is OK to analyse these figures of speech by referring to them as metaphors. However, the academic or enthusiastic student may which to be more specific.

Just a note, it is possible for a single statement to be different types of specific metaphors at once. More often than so there is not always a "right or wrong" answer.

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