Caribou with a pair

From Chris Waigl on the 10th, this bulletin from Alaska, the 2/24 Nuggets cartoon by Jamie Smith ( in her local paper, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:


[Chris:] [Since the cartoon is set in Alaska]  the animals depicted presumably are caribou (NOT reindeer). Note that in caribou, females have antlers, often quite elaborate ones.

Also [since it’s illegal to kill caribou cows, but legal to hunt bulls,] the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a remarkable multi-page illustrated leaflet about sexing caribou in the wild [here]

Ok: the idiom grow a pair; antlers on female caribou/reindeer; the distinction between caribou and reindeer; and as a bonus, an Ink & Snow blog posting “Bear Den” from 3/10 on the use of trademarked characters in cartoons.

The idiom grow a pair. Roughly ‘man up’, involving the truncation (of the beheading sort) a pair ‘a pair of (literal or figurative) balls/testicles’. Apparently not previously discussed on this blog. From GDoS:

noun balls: 1 the testicles … 3 courage, bravery; supposedly quintessential male qualities, but now as often applied to women. 1941 Budd Schulberg What Makes Sammy Run?… You got balls [similarly: he’s got balls, nobody with any balls, balls like the Italians, where’s y’ balls?, had no balls, took a certain amount of balls, ant got the balls to do…, what colossal balls] … 9 effrontery, gall, audacity 1965 Hunter Thompson letter… no, I don’t have the crazy balls to say, ‘No, I’ll refuse to let you publish it’…

adj. ballsy: 2 tough, courageous; despite ety., used of either gender. [1st cite 1967]

noun pair: 2 (US) the testicles; usu. in phr. have a pair v., to be macho, manly [1st cite 1977 Michael Herr Dispatches… like you got a pair;  similarly: sound off like you got a pair, acting like you grew a pair]

Antlers. In the caribou/reindeer world, in the genus Rangifer, females as well as males generally have antlers (though the males’ antlers tend to be larger and more impressive):

(#2) A caribou cow and her calf

(#3) A caribou bull

(#4) A reindeer bull with especially impressive antlers

On antlers and horns, from Wikipedia:

Antlers are extensions of an animal’s skull found in members of the deer family [the cervids]. They are true bone and are a single structure. They are generally found only on males, with the exception of the caribou. Antlers are shed and regrown each year and function primarily as objects of sexual attraction and as weapons in fights between males for control of harems.

In contrast, horns, found on pronghorns and bovids such as sheep, goats, bison and cattle, are two-part structures. An interior of bone (also an extension of the skull) is covered by an exterior sheath grown by specialized hair follicles, the same material [keratin] as human fingernails and toenails. Horns are never shed and continue to grow throughout the animal’s life. The exception to this rule is the Pronghorn which sheds and regrows its horn sheath each year.

On cervids vs. bovids:

Deer … are the [cloven-]hoofed ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. [A member of this family is called a cervid.] The two main groups are the Cervinae, including the muntjac, the elk (wapiti), the fallow deer, and the chital; and the Capreolinae, including the reindeer (caribou), the roe deer, and the moose. Female reindeer, and male deer of all species except the Chinese water deer, grow and shed new antlers each year. In this they differ from permanently horned antelope, which are part of a different family (Bovidae) within the same order of even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla). (Wikipedia link)

The Bovidae are the biological family of cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals that includes bison, African buffalo, water buffalo, antelopes, wildebeest, impala, gazelles, sheep, goats, muskoxen, and domestic cattle. A member of this family is called a bovid….

The bovids show great variation in size and pelage colouration. Excepting some domesticated forms, all male bovids have two or more horns, and in many species females possess horns, too. [In domestic cattle, only males have horns.] The size and shape of the horns vary greatly, but the basic structure is always one or more pairs of simple bony protrusions without branches, often having a spiral, twisted or fluted form, each covered in a permanent sheath of keratin. (Wikipedia link)

Caribou vs. reindeer. (With great thanks to Chris Waigl, who’s exchanged much e-mail with me on this topic.) Wikipedia’s current take on the naming situation is that basically there is one species of animal here, with different local names in North America (caribou) and Eurasia (reindeer), though it does recognize that there are distinct subspecies in the two regions:

The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), also known as the caribou in North America, is a species of deer with circumpolar distribution, native to Arctic, sub-Arctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America. This includes both sedentary and migratory populations. Rangifer herd size varies greatly in different geographic regions. The Taimyr herd of migrating Siberian tundra reindeer (R. t. sibiricus) in Russia is the largest wild reindeer herd in the world, varying between 400,000 and 1,000,000. What was once the second largest herd is the migratory boreal woodland caribou (R. t. caribou) George River herd in Canada, with former variations between 28,000 and 385,000. As of January 2018, there are fewer than 9,000 animals estimated to be left in the George River herd, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

… Male and female reindeer can grow antlers annually, although the proportion of females that grow antlers varies greatly between population and season. Antlers are typically larger on males.

This treats caribou vs. reindeer as locally distributed synonyms, like AmE elevator vs. BrE lift or AmE zucchini vs. BrE courgette. It does seem to be that the name caribou is used only in North America, but Alaskans (like Chris) seem to be generally, and passionately, convinced that there are distinct referents here.

Now this is a complex matter. It’s commonplace for a term to have somewhat different extensions in different contexts, including in different geographical regions. The apples you see in grocery stores in the UK are not quite the same as the ones that you see in the US (though they overlap), and it will sometimes be possible for a knowledgeable person to look at pictures of the two and identify them as British or American apples — but apple covers them both. The feral cats you see on the street are not quite the same as pet cats (though they overlap), and it will sometimes be possible for a knowledgeable person to look at pictures of the two and identify them as feral or pet cats — but cat covers them both.

All this remains true when there are different local names. The courgettes you see in grocery stores in the UK are not quite the same as the zucchini you see in the US (though they overlap) — note that the seed varieties for plain green summer squash sold by Sutton’s in the UK differ from the seed varieties sold by Burpee’s in the US, though they overlap some (the variety Sure Thing is available both places) — so that it will sometimes be possible for a knowledgeable person to look at pictures of the two and identify them as courgettes or zucchini (in a long-ago previous life, I could do this). That difference in extension doesn’t mean that courgette and zucchini are not semantically equivalent.

Now on Rangifer. First important fact: in general, Alaskans use both the names caribou and reindeer, and they believe — I think correctly — that the two names differ in meaning.

Second important fact: both the creatures Alaskans call caribou and the creatures Alaskans can reindeer are found in Alaska. But in different contexts. Caribou are wild animals, roaming the land in herds, sometimes hunted for their meat or for sport, and serving as symbols of Wild (and Indigenous) Alaska. Reindeer are semi-domesticated creatures, originally imported from Scandinavian herds, living in enclosures, grown for what they can provide (mostly, meat, but also holiday cuteness and the like).

Third fact (which turns out to be less weighty than you might have thought), made clear in the Wikipedia reindeer entry: there are populations, local to North America and local to Eurasia, that are sufficiently distinct in physical characteristics for zoologists to treat them as subspecies. Knowledgeable people are sometimes able to distinguish them by their appearance (Chris: reindeer tend to be stockier, and the calves are of a darker color), but the differences are subtle, there’s a good bit of overlap, and there are in fact inter(sub)specific hybrids.

The upshot is that the crucial caribou-reindeer difference is not a matter of physical characteristics, but has to do with sociocultural function, the differing roles that the creatures play in the lives of Alaskans. Very briefly, it’s the sociocultural category distinction WILD vs. DOMESTICATED — just as with feral cats vs. pet cats, but here some people have different names.

In general, the meanings of everday-language terms almost always incorporate (sociocultural) function factors as well as more “objective” factors like physical characteristics. This was the lesson of Labov’s classic paper on artefact names like cup (“The boundaries of words and their meanings”, in Bailey & Shuy (eds.), New Ways of Analyzing Variation in English, 1973) and of my little paper on plant-category names like herb.

Bonus: trademarked characters in cartoons. An Ink & Snow blog posting by the cartoonist of #1, Jamie Smith: “Bear Den” from 3/10 about this cartoon:


Since it’s an amalgamation from fifteen different corporate trademarked intellectual properties, obviously it’s problematic from a legal perspective w/copyright infringement. That said there’s plenty of precedent with fair use – it being both parody & transformative – and the gag turns on the concept of readily identifiable characters being recontextualized (“appropriated” in the artsy-fartsy nomenclature). These officially trademarked characters with “secondary meaning” as “source identifiers” include: Walt Disney Company (Baloo); Coca-Cola (Coke’s Polar bear); Miller/Coors (Hamm’s Beer bear); Hanna-Barbera (Square Bear of the Hair Bear Bunch); US Forest Service (Smokey Bear); NBC/King Features (Berenstain Bears); HarperCollins/News Corp (Paddington); Henson Associates (Fozzie Bear); A&W/Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (Root Beer Bear); Sun Products/Vestar Capital Partners (Snuggle bear); American Greetings Corporation, LLC (Care Bear); Post/Genral Foods Corporation ((Sugar Bear); Media Rights Capital/Universal Pictures (Ted bear); Hanna-Barbera (Yogi Bear).

It might just not be worth the potential hassle, but then again, me being a relative nobody, who the hell cares. Or it could be a fun experiment. No worries either way, I wasn’t gonna make a free expression case out of it (though arguably that’s what it’s about). I did however flag it for my editor to make the call: dodge or run with it? After he bounced it on up the chain of command at the newspaper, and their legal counsel weighed in with a thumbs-up it ran. I use it also now in the classroom [Smith teaches courses at UAF] as a literal illustration of how convoluted and complicated copyright issues can be. A note here to state the obvious caveat/disclaimer: nothing in this post is remotely intended to serve as legal council or advice, nor should anything here be taken as such.

Then, extended reflections on the dramatically messy legal situation with respect to the use of such trademarked images.

It’s a topic that has concerned me for years, as I created large numbers of collages containing such images. I haven’t tried to publish them, or to sell copies of them, but in principle the copyright laws apply to blog postings as to all the rest. Most of the examples are way too X-rated for this blog, but some are merely humorously homoerotic.

From my 10/21/16 posting “Pingu watches over the gay boys”:

On AZBlogX, two postings of homoerotic Pingu-based collages (featuring the animated penguin Pingu), 8 in each set: “Pingu: first wave” (here) and “Pingu: second wave” (here)

Two from the first set that can be posted here, 1-2 and 1-8:

(#6) The male couple

(#7) Roadway cruising

(The background image in #7 is surely copyrighted, and the one in #6 might be too. I don’t, however, have a record of where they came from.)

One Response to “Caribou with a pair”

  1. Two parrots and a pear tree | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] from my 3/14/19 posting “Caribou with a […]

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