General English

  • noun a living thing that moves independently

General Science

  • adjective referring to organisms which can feel sensations and move voluntarily
  • noun an organism which can feel sensations and move voluntarily


  • adjective excellent, exciting. This use of the term by young people since 2000 is based on earlier uses of the noun animal to denote an impressively excessive individual.

Origin & History of “animal”

Etymologically, an animal is a being which breathes (compare (deer)). Its immediate source was the Latin adjective animālis ‘having a soul’, a derivative of the noun anima ‘breath, soul’ (which also gave English the verb and adjective animate (15th c.)). Anima is a member of a set of related words in which the notions of ‘breath, wind’ and ‘spirit, life’ are intimately connected: for instance, Greek ánemos ‘wind’ (possible source of English anemone), Latin animus ‘spirit, mind, courage, anger’ (source of English animosity (15th c.) and animus (19th c.)), Sanskrit ániti ‘breathe’, Old English ōthian ‘breathe’, Swedish anda ‘breath, spirit’, and Gothic usanan ‘breathe out’. The ‘breath’ sense is presumably primary, the ‘spirit, life’ sense a metaphorical extension of it.