Snake: Semiotic Deconstruction of a Word

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The descriptor that contains the words a slithering, ground-bound, cold-blooded and legless creature can carry the name snake in any language. While the reptilian connotations is typically the first and most common agreed-upon definition of the word snake, this depiction is certainly not the only one. The five letters that comprise the English word snake can be placed in multiple contexts, used as many different parts of speech, and it can also compete for the preferred term of any number of amphibious creatures. Like all words, the word snake has cultural, social, geographical, religious, biological, and even psychological implications.

Culturally, the word snake differs in several ways. Ancient Egypt, the Nile Cobra was worshipped as a god. In Greek history, snakes are the enemy, the ones who will harm the protagonist of a myth. In India, snakes are ubiquitous in the culture and the folklore as symbols of fertility or as gods. A snake eating its own tail is a symbol of the circuity of life in a diverse array of cultures.

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Socially, snakes can be anthropomorphized to indicate a human with substandard morals; it can be credited to a greasy-looking man or a person engaged in underhanded business dealings. Used in this way, it is indicative of mistrust and disgust. Using the word as a metaphor in a manner where a human is called a snake or as a simile where a human is likened to a snake nearly always has a negative connotation.

On a more positive note, the image of one snake encircling a staff is the symbol for veterinary medicine. Two snakes winding around a staff are symbolic of human medicine. This rod and snake motif is also a symbol of medics in the United States military. Interestingly, these snakes have wings, as if to carry them off of the ground where snakes are typically relegated. In these cases, snakes are a symbol of healing.

The snake as a symbol in Christianity is an evildoer. He or she was the one who tempted Adam and Eve to taste the forbidden fruit. Here, the snake represents temptation itself, as well as self-indulgence, and perhaps even curiosity and the ability to think independently rather than to act according to what one is told to do. Hindus utilize snakes in their religious ceremonies as well.

The origin of the word snake in the English language stem from the Greek word for sign. This is double interesting in the sense of finding a semeiotic meaning for the term – finding the symbolism for the word that is originated from the word indicating symbolism. The abstractness of this type of though is well-represented through the word snake – it is slippery; it is difficult to grasp.

Regarding how the word snake is used as a part of speech, it is, of course, first and foremost a noun. It names something – it is a thing. It can also be used as a verb. For example, if someone were to utter, “Quit snaking around,” they would actually mean they wanted to stop the action of someone being dishonest, untruthful, or smarmy in their actions and deeds. Additionally, the word snake can be used as an adjective, as in the phrase snake oil. Snake oil is a term used when describing a hoaxy pharmaceutical potion. Finally, while uncommon, the word snake can also be used as an adverb. Snakily, while rare, is a way of doing something in a creepy manner. It answers the questions of how something was done, therefore classifying itself as an adverb.
Overall, the diverse array of ways the term snake can be used is broad; it does have a commonly understood meaning as a slithering creature, but it also carries with it he cultural, social, and other meanings with it that lend it a place as a diverse sentiment in the English language.

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