“Is there a word for when a person thinks they are a dog?”
I had asked if there was anything she wanted to share about school. There was something she wanted to share. She wanted to share about a girl in her class who believes she is a dog.
One of the things I love most about children is their desire to understand, to name, to make sense of the world. Hey-is-there-a-word-for-this is such a human experience.
Language is human.
I told her I had honestly no idea but that we could look it up?
She clapped her hands together excitedly.
We started our search with Google, of course. No shame in using a noun so powerful it verbed itself. Hold on let me google it! She googled it. OMG did you even google it?!
I typed in is-there-a-word-for-when-a-person-thinks-they-are-a-dog. Google told us in less than a second that there’s totally a word. The word is lycanthropy, a noun defined as, “the supernatural transformation of a person into a wolf, as recounted in folk tales” but also as, “a rare psychological disorder in which a person thinks they are an animal, usually a wolf, or that they can transform into an animal, also usually a wolf.”
We hit the voice to text button so we could listen to a pronunciation of “lycanthropy” a few times. Note I did not say the pronunciation. My dyslexic ass has still (despite repeated intervention) not yet mastered her phonology so voice to text is thumbs up.
I noticed the medial <y> in the spelling and immediately thought, “Hellenic?” I turned to my study partner and said, “Well, would you look at that. The word is lycanthropy. And how interesting that the girl in your class believes she is a dog. Because a dog is not that far away from a wolf.”
My study partner considered our discoveries. She wanted to know if Douglas had an entry for lycanthropy. Turns out he totally does. And his entry for werewolf? Mind blowing. There is a secret link in that one. I love his secret links. Go find a secret link I dare you.
Etymonline helped us understand that the word lycanthropy is not new. In fact it is an old idea, this transformation of human into wolf, and we see the mark of ancient human experience in its spelling. The <y> does mark a Hellenic element. Lovely.
Apparently the Greeks were writing about wolf-men thousands of years ago.
Lycanthropy is a compound. The first base element derives from the Greek lykos “wolf.” I found myself circling back to this etymon by myself, later. I found words that I’d never heard of before, like Lycoperdon (a kind of mushroom), lyceum, and alyssum. That last one is a “perhaps” and then a “probably” from Douglas, a move I always interpret as him grumbling, “well if you are going to take that first intellectual jump you might as well take the second.”
“Wow,” said my study partner. “The girl in my class who believes she is a dog barks at squirrels on the trees outside during class, and she also rolls on the ground sometimes. This week she came to me crying at recess because some other kids told her to stop pretending to be a dog. She said to me that she’s not pretending to be a dog she’s PRETENDING TO BE A HUMAN.”
These are the exact moments in session I want a fucking guidebook for, okay? Like can there be a guidebook for working with kids that has a whole chapter devoted to “Exactly What To Say and Do When One of Your Kids Shares About A Self-Identified Wolf-Girl in Her Class at School and You Find Out That Might Actually Be a Thing Because It’s Been Written About For Over 2,500 Years And You Are Lowkey Freaking Out.”
There’s no pre-made guidebook but y’all already knew that, didn’t you?
There’s no pre-made guidebook but there is the guidebook you make yourself with your own hands and heart and brain. You have to make it carefully one page at a time, and you have to go back all the time and update it. You have to update it more than your goddamn iPhone.
My guidebook now says this in really big shouty all caps:
Don’t dismiss the experiences of children just because they don’t make sense. Life doesn’t make sense. Listen to children and study with them, follow their lead but offer your own grounded understanding of what you know to be true. Most of all keep learning and don’t ever think you know everything because you don’t.
After my study partner left I kept thinking about that word. I murmured “lycanthropy” and felt the points of stress beat like heartbeats. I kept studying, kept thinking, kept circling back.
There’s some connection here, or some confusion here, between wolves and light. But think about it: full moon. Lunar/lunatic. Lycanthropy is a kind of madness; werewolves are bound to their transformation during the full moon in particular. I could keep going but you can also look things up and connect the dots. There’s a lot of them scattered here like stars.
There used to be a Greek word, lyke, which meant light.
I found a Greek myth about Lycaon, the son of Pelasgos, who angered the god Zeus when he offered him human flesh. As punishment, Zeus turned Lycaon and his sons into wolves.
I read parts of the Icelandic Volsungs Saga. Wolves show up throughout that Saga, but one example is a father and son discovering wolf pelts that have the ability to transform them into wolves when worn.
There’s also the whole entire concept (and cult obsession) of werewolves, which pretty much fits right in with this. Plus in Old English wulf forms compounds in names.
It’s a full moon at 5:11 today.
Feelin cute, might go howl at it.