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News & views

Mounting pressure for a taxidermal verb

[23 Aug] Actress Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia! and – released today – Lovelace) lives in West Hollywood, USA in a house she has filled with stuffed animals.

To The Times she declares undying love for a pet dog but says: ‘I would never taxidermy my dog, because I love him. But there’s no emotional attachment to my horse, my chicken or my wolf.’

Leaving aside the eccentricity of possessing a solitary un-Paxoed chicken (naturally, most people in Hollywood have a solitary wolf), was Seyfried right to use ‘taxidermy’ as a verb?

The dictionaries allow it only as a noun, but if ever a profession needed a verb to describe its work, surely it is taxidermy, which Encarta defines as ‘the art or skill of preparing, stuffing, and presenting dead animal skins so they appear lifelike’. It was coined from the Greek ‘taxis’ (arrangement) and ‘derm’ (skin), as you knew full well.

To say that taxidermists ‘stuff’ and ‘mount’ their creatures has connotations of backroom bestiality. So, since a well-established plain-language principle is to use the verb that best expresses the action in the sentence, we’ve asked the Guild of Taxidermy to let us know if it has a verb of choice.

The silence so far may be just a polite way of saying ‘get stuffed’, but if the guild does respond, you’ll be the first to hear.

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