I'm trying to translate a video on TED into my native language (Latvian). At the very start there is an expression I'm unfamiliar with - "animal warmth". I think I kind of understand the idea intuitively, but I can't think of any similar expressions in my native tongue (short of direct translation). It would be nice if someone could explain the concept to me, or give some more examples of usage. Here's the context:

... Because in my family, reading was the primary group activity. And this might sound antisocial to you, but for us it was really just a different way of being social. You have the animal warmth of your family sitting right next to you, but you are also free to go roaming around the adventureland inside your own mind.

  • 1
    I missed my chance to answer because I started listening to the interview (by the way, thank you for giving me the opportunity to discover a very interesting site). I would have said that "animal warmth" could be described as cosiness.
    – Paola
    May 6, 2012 at 14:48
  • @Paola: The question is still open, so there's still plenty of time to add to the conversation. I always appreciate a little extra insight – be it heritage, history, custom, usage or anecdote – even after a question is already 85% answered. Nobody has mentioned the band Three Dog Night, for example.
    – J.R.
    May 6, 2012 at 16:10

3 Answers 3


It simply describes, rather graphically, the comfort to be derived from the presence of other people, particularly people you are close to.

  • +1, Barrie, you are the number one. Your answer are always concise and vigorous.
    – user19148
    May 6, 2012 at 15:17
  • @Barrie England: Would then animal warmth be synonym of human warmth in this figurative sense?
    – None
    May 6, 2012 at 15:28
  • 1
    @Laure: I don't think so. 'Animal warmth' conveys to me, at least, the sense of something more tangible than 'human warmth', in so far as kinds of heat can be tangible at all. 'Human warmth' is emotional, whereas 'animal warmth' is rather more physical. May 6, 2012 at 16:08

Animal warmth is literally a warmth generated from within an animal or person, as opposed to external sources of heat. It is used figuratively to mean a coziness and closeness with another being. Here are a few examples of its use.

The first excerpt is from an old medical journal, just showing that it's an old term and that animal warmth is different than artificial heat.

Baltimore monthly journal of medicine & surgery, Volume 1, 1830

Besides there is something we know not what in animal warmth which cherishes far more than artificial heat. The knowledge of the fact seems to be as old as the days of King David but the rationale we cannot explain until we shall have learnt something more of the constitution of heat.

This excerpt from a textbook shows the connotation of closeness and nurturing.

Anglo-Irish Autobiography: Class, Gender, and the Forms of Narrative By Elizabeth Grubgeld, 2004

As a small child I often longed for the animal warmth of simple maternal love. I longed for some one to take me in her arms, to kiss me and to hug me, to rock me to sleep in her lap.

As does this example from the journal of poet Sylvia Plath.

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962

So there it was, two hours of driving through the dark, the warmth of the people on either side of me -- animal warmth penetrates regardless of sensibilities and arbitrary barricades.


I belong to a local Toastmasters group and my next 5-7 minute speech is coming up. I've chosen the title 'Animal Warmth' and here is the very first draft of my speech (sorry it is not as yet more polished):

Animal warmth

I wonder how many of you have experienced the warmth and comfort you can get from an animal?

The first time I really felt this was way back when I was thirteen going on fourteen. It was my worst ever Christmas. We were on my aunt and uncle's dairy farm in the Manawatu when my father died of a sudden heart attack. Very early Christmas morning. You can imagine the next few days. Mum's health hadn't been good the past year and now she'd suddenly lost her husband. My step-grandmother was there, and lots of other people, all milling around her. No one seemed to take any notice of me. So I spent the next few days just wandering over the farm. Feeling lost. And I found my way to the cows. I'd been helping with milking for some time already. I knew there are some cows that are tamer than others. They'll stand still in the paddock and let you go up to them. There's a way of approaching a cow so she isn't scared. [demonstrate] You don't just barge up to them front on. You approach at the back, and you gently rub along her back, gradually getting closer to her head as she relaxes a bit. Then you can rub her between the ears, like a dog. You can put your arm around her neck. You can snuggle in to her. She's so warm, so comforting. That's what I did, day after day. I let the cows give me comfort. Who knows what they were thinking … but they stayed still for me, they let me cuddle them. I felt their warmth, their soft heat. They were like a mother. They mothered me when I most needed it, when my own mother was consumed by her own pain, her own loss. I've loved cows ever since.

These days I don't come across cows very often. There are beef cattle up in the Wellington hills. I've taken a dog walking behind Wellington Prison and we came across some surprisingly docile Herefords. Even though I had Seal with me, they let me get up really close and pat them. It was a good feeling. There are often beef cattle in the hills around Mt Kaukau too. I love to take photos of them but these ones don't let me get close enough to pat them, with dog or without. Seal wasn't 'my' dog but I took her walking in the hills a lot. I never thought I'd get attached to a dog but Seal became my friend … and she gave me comfort too. Seal was part of the wider family … and
Earlier this year, Seal developed cancer of the jaw. She had to be put down. I guess quite a few of you have gone through that … you'll know how hard it is. Anyway, I was walking in the hills south of Kaukau one day, taking the 'scenic route' to Ngaio. I was by myself – and feeling cold, lonely and lost, thinking about the last time I was there … with the dog running ahead, looking back eagerly, doing what happy dogs do. Thinking about other losses in my life, thinking about times that just don't come again. Finally I walked down to the Ngaio railway station to catch a train home again. And I learned that animal warmth and comfort can sometimes come along when they're most needed.

I'd just missed a train. Nearly half an hour to wait. No one else on the platform. Nothing to read. I sat down, miserable. And then … a small furry creature dashed across from the other side of the tracks. Leapt on my lap. Settled down, purring madly. The Ngaio stationmaster. I wonder how many of you know the Ngaio stationmaster. I'd often see this cat from the train as I passed through Ngaio. Just about always at the Ngaio station, meeting the trains. It took me a while to learn that the stationmaster is female, lives quite close by, does have another name – Belle. A local fixture. She was so warm! I moved, I didn't want her to jump off my lap. But there was no risk of that, she was there to stay. And somehow I felt comforted. She was still on my lap when I saw my train appearing round the corner from Crofton Downs. I lifted her off. 'I'm sorry, I have to go now.' I felt like thanking her.

When the train moved off, I looked back at her through the window. I felt so warm towards her. 'That's the Ngaio stationmaster,' I told a man sitting nearby. He just laughed. 'Yes, she'll jump up on anyone who's waiting for the train,' he said.

Well, I knew that, didn't I. She wasn't there specially for me … but she certainly came along at a time I needed a bit of animal warmth.

You might imagine that I'm now going to tell you you should go out and get a pet of your own … a cat or dog if not a cow … Well, I'm not doing that … I don't have a pet of any sort so I can't tell YOU to get one! But what I AM here to say is simply this … When you need some warmth and comfort, there's often an obliging animal nearby. If you can't find a suitable cow …. you could head down to the Ngaio railway station … the stationmaster might well leap onto your lap.

  • 1
    Is this an answer to the OP's question? Bit long, isn't it? What about posting only the most relevant excerpts of your speech.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 31, 2013 at 7:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.