Merriam-Webster -- Words We're Watching: Furry And Fursona
July 29, 2019 9:29 PM   Subscribe

An old word with new developments. What to Know A rising usage of furry refers to people who have a keen interest in, or even dress up as, anthropomorphic animal characters, like those often seen in comics, games, and cartoons.
If you prefer movies, shows, or games featuring animal characters who behave and dress like humans, or have a humanlike animal as an online avatar, or like dressing up like an animal, it might just so happen that you identify as a furry—or it might be you simply admire the free, instinctual behavior of wild animals. We're not qualified to help you figure that out, but we have noticed that furry has come to signify a person showing interest in anthropomorphic animals, and we're working on giving definition to that sense of the term and its derivatives.
posted by hippybear (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
...and hippybear wins for most eponysterical post of the day....
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:54 PM on July 29, 2019 [14 favorites]

I'm actually a giant green wolf. This "hippybear" sona stems from my early days online when I was steeped in the culture of a generation ahead of me while also being a gay man who didn't present in the late-80s dominant porn ideal of shaven, smooth, blonde, and young-looking. I've written about this a lot here.

Well, the bear culture stuff. Not as much about being a giant green wolf, although I've been out as a furry for quite a long while now.
posted by hippybear at 10:46 PM on July 29, 2019 [19 favorites]

This is a perfect spot to ask... Is there a furry community term for a non-furry?

Smoothie? Humoid? Muggle?
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:41 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is a perfect spot to ask... Is there a furry community term for a non-furry?

"Normie" is what I hear most often used for this, though it's (obviously) not exclusive to furry subculture.
posted by Aleyn at 11:59 PM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of surprised that this is news to Merriam-Webster. But yep, it's not in their online dictionary. Wiktionary has it, at least.
posted by zompist at 1:28 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah I'm surprised that this is new, too. I am very furry-adjacent so maybe my perspective is skewed, but I feel like there's been general awareness of furries as a subculture to be reckoned with (and importantly, not derided) in the wider geek and queer circles for at least a decade. Merriam-Webster is always going to be late on these things but this feels especially so.
posted by Mizu at 2:27 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I first met furries in London in the mid 90's, who could be found in the same alternative scene as the goths. (I was only ever goth adjacent, but I had several awesome proper goth friends who used to take me to some fun parties)

There was a CSI episode that had a furry convention as a main plot point - they did the usual awful CSI 'laugh at the different subculture' thing, but looking it up, it aired in 2003! So uh, way to keep up with the times MW.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 2:50 AM on July 30, 2019

“Keen interest?” It’s a fetish, most of the time.

The usual catch-all term for non-kinky people is “vanilla.” To me “normie” evokes the chans and adjacent culture, and there is some crossover there but typically the chans like to shit on furries.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:02 AM on July 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

To be clear I am not a furry but have a few in my orbit and have become reasonably familiar with the scene, as an onlooker.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:08 AM on July 30, 2019

Dictionaries are pretty slow-moving, generally, as well they ought to be. They are conservative by design, being the record of "correct" use for constantly mutating and wildly variant lingual upstarts. Even when fully embracing a descriptive versus prescriptive role, a dictionary is better served to wait a while and see before making additions or changes.
posted by Scattercat at 3:30 AM on July 30, 2019 [11 favorites]

Oh goodness let's not have the "is it a fetish" discussion again. People who are part of a subculture usually sleep with other people in that subculture. People who like fashion or character art in a certain style, and who like porn, often like porn in that style. And people who want to be seen a certain way often find it an active turn-off if their partners don't see them that way. Those things don't automatically make a subculture, style, or self-image a fetish.

(This matters. I have a kink-friendly friend who was in Pittsburgh for Anthrocon and was scandalized by the totally G-rated fursuit parade, because he saw it as a bunch of fetishists getting their freak on in front of children. Nope. Wrong.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:02 AM on July 30, 2019 [28 favorites]

There's an interesting view in the community lately that the fetish aspect is what's currently keeping furry stuff from corporate repackaging. Pornographic fanart is not going to be palatable to marketing teams wanting to keep their brand PG-13.
posted by solarion at 5:32 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

“Keen interest?” It’s a fetish, most of the time.

As a furry who moderates a large furry community, no.
posted by xedrik at 6:53 AM on July 30, 2019 [10 favorites]

I remember when furries were very much on the bottom of the Internet totem pole*, and there was a widespread belief that it was mostly a fetish with a few people on the fringes that liked it for the articles.

There's been a gradual normalising process as furries have filtered out into the wider internet, they've mostly passed without incident, and they've largely been capable of providing a safe space for kids, which counts for a lot. We've also come to understand that a good portion of the weird furry shit has in fact been weird Sonic the Hedgehog shit, a completely different subculture. It helped that they resisted the neo-Nazi infiltration that made a lot of internet spaces much more unpleasant, a feat that elevated quite a few subcultures in respectability (juggalos, for instance).

* One of Brunching Shuttercocks' more well-known pieces, as an illustration of the time period.
posted by Merus at 7:16 AM on July 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

MetaFilter: It’s a fetish, most of the time.
posted by gc at 7:49 AM on July 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm kind of surprised that this is news to Merriam-Webster. But yep, it's not in their online dictionary.

Kory Stamper is no longer an editor at Merriam-Webster but I would heartily recommend her book about her time there, The Secret Lives of Dictionaries. Among many other things she discusses adding new words and, more commonly, new senses to existing words.

M-W fully embraces the descriptive aspect of language but they deliberately wait; words need a reasonably long and widespread history of usage to make the cut. They aren't trying to document fads in language usage.

I also vaguely remember one sign that a word has a new sense is when it is used in mainstream publications without providing a definition. Interesting that all their cites in this article from the last five years or so still feel the need to tell you what the word means.

There is a lot of handwaving about what counts as "widespread" or "mainstream" use to be sure, and it doesn't rule out words that are widespread only in certain subcultures, so for sure I think you could still make the case they are late but probably not that they are very late.
posted by mark k at 8:04 AM on July 30, 2019 [13 favorites]

Reading this after the "VR can simulate different bodies" post made me think there could be some synergy here. A game that could make a furry feel like their avatar in fundamental ways would be pretty engaging.
posted by skullhead at 8:20 AM on July 30, 2019

skullhead, that was my first thought seeing the VR post yesterday. score for the furries and otherkin!
posted by gaybobbie at 10:05 AM on July 30, 2019

Interesting that the OED doesn't have it either. Despite their rather stodgy reputation, I find they are usually significantly ahead of MW.
posted by Canageek at 1:21 PM on July 30, 2019

To me “normie” evokes the chans and adjacent culture

It might be in use in channer circles, but it's a generic-enough term that I don't think they can claim ownership. In any case I don't think I've heard a super widely-used term for non-furries inside the furry fandom, other than maybe "non-furry" or "normie". I've heard "smoothies", "humies" and other such terms used mostly in jest, but I feel like the general consensus is that no one can use a term like that with a straight face anyway so why bother, and there's also a bit of a sentiment that nearly everyone's a little bit furry deep down inside, so drawing the distinction with a "cute" term isn't actually useful for a community that generally wants to be welcoming to newcomers.

The usual catch-all term for non-kinky people is “vanilla.”

As others have mentioned, furry isn't a fetish. It can be sex-positive, and many furries definitely have fetishes, some related to furry themes and some not, but plenty don't. In fact, I know several asexual and aromantic furs; if furry was purely a fetish, there would be nothing here for them. In any case, it's an extremely reductive view on what furry is.

And since you want to wave credentials around, I've been going to furry conventions since 2006 and identifying as a furry for longer than that, so I'd like to think I have some insight into the culture.
posted by Aleyn at 3:38 PM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I participated on furryMUCK around the turn of the millennium as a (incredibly naive) teen and only later realized the fetish aspect of the whole thing. So although I don’t really identify with the furry scene, I’ve never gotten the argument that furry-ness is just a fetish or a kink, since my experience was just a bunch of people having fun role-playing as anthropomorphic animals.

Also I had a lot of fun using the scripting language on furryMUCK. I’m still proud of my little puppet.
posted by that girl at 6:43 PM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Furry isn't a fetish.

Furry is finding an alternate reality overlay to apply across life in order to keep it playful and interesting. Living as a human is stupid and boring, living as a giant green wolf is fun because you do wolf things in your imagination or maybe in life (I do howl sometimes, and maybe other things which I won't tell you because I'm a wolf).

Furry is deciding to play with being alive, and deciding this is the genre you want to do it in.
posted by hippybear at 10:01 PM on July 30, 2019 [10 favorites]

I really like that formulation of it. I'm not a furry — but mostly it's because I found other genres-for-playing-with-life-in before I found furry fandom, and by the time I did start meeting furries I was like "Nah, I'm attached to these other ways of doing it more."

At this point I end up as the token human in the room a lot, because a ton of trans women computer nerds are furries. And sometimes I get, like, "Wait, are you sure you're not a furry?" And I feel like that's a good answer: "No, but I know what it's like to want a better game to play with being alive. I just picked a different game than y'all."
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:02 AM on July 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm actually a giant green wolf.

brb, cleaning up head explosion from cognitive dissonance
(I knew the backstory of your username, but even so...)

Furry is deciding to play with being alive, and deciding this is the genre you want to do it in.

I really like this! And am starting to wish I hadn't self-shamed out of my fannish tendencies back in the 90s.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:35 AM on July 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's okay to un-shame yourself into liking something again. Even at your advanced age! *ducking*
posted by hippybear at 9:47 PM on July 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

Watch it, old man...

Although, from time to time I do stop and give thanks that the online services I used in the late 80s-early 90s died and took their archives (including my ramblings about Quantum Leap, MacGyver, X-Files, and Lois & Clark) with them.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:12 AM on August 1, 2019

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