The Meaning of Furry

Up until this point, there has been a lot of discussion around furry; on what it means to be a furry, how the identity interacts with the way we see the world, etc… However, it is often beneficial to reflect upon the things we have said, and the way in which we use words. I believe, and will attempt to show in this essay, that we hold an incomplete grasp of words within the context of furry.

I’d like to start by saying that I shall be adopting a metaphysical Externalist perspective. To begin with, I believe it is important to clarify what that means.

A metaphysical Externalist holds that for something to be a thought, it must in some way be connected and formed through an outside object. Traditionally, thought is painted in a “mental images” sort of way, but the Externalist argues against this. For example, if you want to think of a tree, then it would not be enough to simply have the image of a tree within your own mind. Instead, that image would have to come from an actual experience with trees, from which, the thought forms.

Hilary Putnam gave one such argument for this. In his essay Brains in Vats, he asks us to imagine an unlikely scenario. Imagine an ant is walking along the sand, leaving a line behind it as it goes. As it continues to walk across the sand, that line intersects with another, and another, until the ant has eventually left a perfect semblance of Winston Churchill in the sand. This image has complete likeness to the historical figure, down to the smallest detail. However, that does not mean that it is a representation of Winston Churchill.

The reason for this seems obvious; the ant has no idea who Winston Churchill is. By accident, it simply left those impressions in the sand. In order for something to be a representation as opposed to a resemblance, there must be intentionality behind it. If we draw a picture, in order for that picture to carry meaning, we must be able to grasp what it is that we are drawing in order for it to represent anything. The way in which we acquire such a grasp, however, is through experience with an external object. This is the difference between the ant scraping a resemblance in the sand, and somebody who is aware that a real Winston Churchill existed and has drawn a picture of him; one has intentionality due to knowing about Winston Churchill, and is thus able to represent him. The other does not. This same principle applies to words, too. In order for our words to mean something, they must also be about something. If I were to say “tree”, that word carries meaning due to the fact that it is able to represent the trees which I have experienced existing externally to me.

To further this point about words, there is no difference between a word written on paper or spoken, and a word in our head. Somebody could know how to respond in Japanese, for example, to other Japanese speakers, yet have no idea what the words which they say mean. They could have no clue as to how the words they said connected to the external world, and thus they would not be able to represent anything in Japanese, despite seeming to be fluent in the language. The words themselves may make sense to somebody external to the speaker, but that would not mean the speaker themselves would be aware of it. For our words to have meaning, they must connect in some way to things which are external to us.

Lets apply this to furry. When we use certain words within furry, I do not think we know what it is we are grasping at times. We may have some idea in some cases, but in many, I doubt that we have a hold of anything external.

I will say that some words do definitely hold meaning in furry, before I move onto talking about how others don’t. “Fursuit” is a very good example of a meaningful word. We know what it is, we have mental imagery, we have experienced fursuits existing external to us (if even just through pictures), and we can quite easily define what they are. Thus, such a word has meaning. Oddly enough, the word “yiff” is actually one of the more meaningful words furries have; we all know what it means, and can all grasp what it represents.

However, we can then move on to more complex words. “Fursona” is particularly hard to define. We definitely know that “fursonas” exists external to us, and we have experience with something, yet it is almost impossible to put out fingers on what that is. The word “fursona” can only carry limited meaning, due to the fact that it is not clear what it represents, outside of a very broad framework. That is, not until we know what the external object we are representing with the word is.

We then move on to words that I believe are so elusive, and so difficult to define or grasp externally, they do not represent anything at all. Though controversial, “postfurry” will be my example in this article. My question to any postfurries, before they carry on with whatever they have to say, would be to explain how exactly they have been able to experience such a thing existing outside of themselves. Can anything be pointed to and have people say “that is what post-furry represents?” My argument here is not that postfurry does not exist, but that in its current state, it is not a real thought and carries no solid representation. In order to make the word mean something, then I would say that the postfurry community needs to work more on grasping what exactly it is referring to, and what it is externally.

I am not picking on postfurries, either. I believe that many words used in furry discourse suffer from not being able to grasp exactly what they are referring to.

An objection to this may be to argue that terms such as postfurry, community, etc., are subjective, and dependent upon each individual. Such a word, though, would be meaningless. Wittgenstein’s private language argument can be used here to show why.

The private language argument says that, if a word has no public use, then we cannot know if we are applying it properly. If there were a word than only one individual knew, and had no known correspondence with reality, then how could we know that such a word was used correctly? The issue is that if the word has no public use, and it is used once, we need to know that when it is used again, it refers to the same thing. If that word has no rules, and no way for it to be wrong, then it can never be used in the right way either. If a word has nothing that it represents, then it becomes a meaningless word.

If we want the word “furry” to carry meaning, we must accept that there is a correct use for it, and an incorrect use for it. Just because some people may think that it means something different, that does not mean a definition is under threat, somebody may just be wrong about it. Meaning comes from words being able to publicly represent things, if a word can mean anything, then it cannot be of any use.

Overall, I believe that this criticism can be applied to much of what has been said about furry. We, as a community, do not know what we are referring to. Many of our words carry little meaning or are vague. If the community is to have meaningful discussion and thoughts, then those discussions must use words that represent real things, and those thoughts must be actual thoughts, not just buzz words that we get into the habit of saying without understanding. This may be a large task, but it is my belief that a better grasp of our own terms – and understanding how furry actually exists – is essential if sites, such as this one, are to string together letters in such a way that they communicate representational content. This is, of course, the entire goal of our words.

About Corgi W.

Corgi is currently studying for a degree in philosophy. She enjoys writing and writing anthropomorphic fiction, and has a passion for philosophical debate.

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8 thoughts on “The Meaning of Furry

  1. So, I can’t necessarily speak for anyone else in the community, but at least when I use the word “postfurry,” I’m referring to the application of the ideas of posthumanism, postmodernism, and poststructuralism to furry. That is, that we can treat “furry” — both the fandom and the body of work that it produces — as a text and deconstruct it, analyzing its synthesis and the components that went into producing it, reconceptualizing it, and repurposing it. Further, by acknowledging the cultural frameworks that go into producing furry, we can ask whether there are identities that are not present in furry that could be, predict what those identities might be, and imagine a furry that includes those identities. Then we can project forward into a “postfurry” — another play on the same word — that has done this analysis, embraced those possible other texts, and come out the other side more fully realized and capable of expressing truths than furry is, because of this willingness to question its own creation. Finally, by imagining furry as a posthumanist framework, we allow ourselves to ask “what is human” by analyzing “what remains when human is not the only element,” and then proceed to add more and more elements, taking away more and more aspects of what we classically define as “human,” until, like the Ship of Theseus, we have arrived at something which is wholly inhuman in concept but which has clear human origin, and we ask whether this, too, can be “human.”

    So, no, I don’t think I’m “pointing at nothing.” Rather,

    I think it’s fair to say that others in the community may not use the term the same way I do — language is a hard problem unto itself — and at times I myself may not use it with the same deep rigor that I express here. However, since this is both an ongoing process and an organically growing community of individuals, each of whom is bringing their own views to the conversation, I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing. What I think is most relevant is that I think of “postfurry” as more of a set of literary theories or a philosophical framework than any ding an sich that needs to be labelled and defined.

  2. I’m no philosopher, so I apologize if I miss the point here, but I feel that your Externalist approach to this topic neglects a very important aspect of “meaning”. A word’s meaning is not only derived from it’s denotation, but also from it’s connotation. While I realize that this doesn’t apply very well to words like “postfurry”, where the connotation can be just as vague as the actual definition, in general connotation is key to understanding. It is often the case in discourse that a word with a single definition can have two drastically different meanings, determined solely by the connotation associated with that word in the given context.

    I’ll use another of you’re examples: “fursona”. While each individual may have their own idea of exactly what a fursona is – from a concrete entity represented by a fursuit or character to simply the way that individual acts within the context of furry and/or their personal life – the basic idea of the fursona as a part of oneself and the feelings evoked by that idea are, based on my own experience and the accounts of furry “veterans”, nearly, if not entirely, ubiquitous. This, coupled with the “broad framework” (to use your terms) of the word’s definition, leads us to an understanding of the word’s meaning, perhaps not meaning in the rigid sense used in this article, but meaning nonetheless.

    I believe a similar line of reasoning is sometimes presented as a “solution” to the Twin Earths thought experiment (which, I believe, was first proposed by Putnam. I’m not certain; again, I’m no expert on philosophy). No matter what chemical the inhabitants of each Earth are referring to, whatever they call “water” preforms the same role on each planet and carries with it the same basic connotation.

    All that being said, I really enjoyed this article. I do agree with you, to an extent, that a portion of the terminology that we use to describe furry is very vague and varied in meaning, I don’t think that this is true any more so for furry than it is for society as a whole.

  3. Attempting to stay within the bounds of metaphysical existentialism fursonas could be described as a representation much in the same way that a photograph can be a representation of a person. And just like a photograph the representation is imperfect and incomplete. I would argue that a fursona is akin to a photograph of its creator but that it captures other details about the creator than a photograph would (internal details as opposed physical appearance).

    I would also argue that furry could be defined as somebody that likes anthropomorphic animals and wishes to be identified as a furry. The identifying as a furry part seems fine since it should be equivalent to someone having a name (assuming you can change your name). I would assume post-furry has a similar definition but I don’t know enough about it to comment.

    I’m guessing I broke the rules of metaphysical existentialism in my arguments since those seemed too simple. If metaphysical existentialism can define itself then I would assume these are valid, but I may be wrong.

  4. I’m happy that someone initiated this conversation, however trying to derive an accurate definition of terms that have been in use for years now would be a daunting task. This is especially true since these terms were primarily created and disseminated through the internet. Several different groups of people would have vastly different meanings behind the same word. For instance, Furry Fan and Furry. Both terms’ connotation and denotation will differ greatly depending on who you ask. There is no question that the furry community has a ambiguity problem with its terms. Even terms we throw around frequently such as “furry fandom” or “furry community” are very horrendously vague. But the main question to ask is, how can one fix this problem?

  5. As much as I would love to start with the post furry retort, I need to point out a simple fact of history.
    Furry has already gone through 2 or 3 major paradigm shifts in it’s 40 year history.
    Gen 1 (1977-1990’s) is underground comix, counterculture and issues from the remnants of the sexual revolution.
    Gen 2 (1990’s-2010’s) being role playing, the great coming out (gay furry), and internet culture, and the birth of “geek” culture.
    Debate over we have a current generation based in fur suits and social acceptance, which is only relevant because i believe “postfurry” is a response to these specific issues.

    I will suggest this: If the Modern Furry Aesthetic is about confronting a tension between our instinctual nature and societal demands, then “postfurry” is just a need or demand to refocus on these discussions. As Reed Waller once said in response to “why does furry exist?”, He responded because it is “the confrontation of the carnal and the spiritual in ourselves”.

    Forgive me a statement that will piss a lot of modern furries off:

    Too much of modern furry is about fursuit’s, OC’s, getting pictures and badges, and feeling validated.

    Although none of these are a “bad” thing, it is just empty and commercial. There is no social challenge, there is introspection or investigation to greater meaning.
    I also want to add that many Gen 1 furs look at today’s furry culture with a little bit of disdain. Their great challenging art works of 1970’s and 80’s (Omaha, Albedo, etc) has created a society of simple street theater that has no greater depth than a bunch of people who will be all too willing to share stories about their OC’s with sad similarities to a WOW player wishing to share stories about their 90th level paladin. GEN 2 did many great things, do not get me wrong. It’s integration with the great coming out and gay furry has many virtues that can not be understated. But where it is now is in a potentially stagnant position.

    Conclusion: “postfurry”, I think, is a misnomer. We may be on edge of new generation. A refocusing of furry. It may be ironic that movies like Zootopia or the newest gen of comics and books seem to be underlining issues like social justice, ideas about “our nature and biology” and a long, sometimes dark, look at ourselves and society. But this is what Modern Furry has always done. Great! looking forward to it! But I do caution It just might seem unrecognizable or unpalatable to the previous Gen. Guess what? Art does that. Learn to understand and appreciate it.

  6. I think a big part of the problem with defining furry is that the furry fandom lexicon is missing important key terms that explain how furry works as a core identity.

    Let me give you a tangential example of what I mean. Right now there are two related groups; gay people (people who self-identify as homosexual) and metrosexuals (straight people who simply enjoy the aesthetics created by gay people). But imagine for a moment that the word, “metrosexual”, did not exist and that the group we currently identify as metrosexual instead labeled themselves as “gay”. Obviously for the two groups to both be labeling themselves as “gay” would create a lot of hurt feelings and confusion about what “gay” actually means in this context.

    This is very much the problematic situation that furry fandom finds itself in, albeit with a twist. In furry fandom, the group that just enjoys the furry aesthetic (the metrosexual equivalent) established itself first. This is the reason why most basic discussions of “what is furry” focus on the aesthetics and the consumption of art and media. On the other hand, the group that self-identifies with furry as a core identity (the gay equivalent) doesn’t have a label at all. Core-identity furries have for the last two decades been appropriating and piggybacking off a label created for an entirely different group of people.

    I understand why this appropriation has been allowed to continue for so long. A lot of furries are simply not that interested in WHY they enjoy the furry aesthetic and simply enjoy the aesthetic and the community that goes along with it. But the lack of a label (or labels) for core identity furry does seem to be causing a whole host of problems for people who ARE interested in explaining what furry means to them as a core identity. Furthermore, the lack of a label invites denial and erasure from outside groups who insist that core identity furry doesn’t exist at all because it doesn’t have a label.

  7. As much as i might like to begin with the post furred retort, i want to signifies a straightforward reality of history.
    Furry has already responded to a pair of or three major paradigm shifts in it’s forty year history.
    Gen one (1977-1990’s) is underground comic, culture and problems from the remnants of the sexual revolution.
    Gen a pair of (1990’s-2010’s) being role taking part in, the good popping out (gay furry), and net culture, and also the birth of “geek” culture.
    Debate over we’ve a current generation primarily based in fur suits and social acceptance, that is just relevant as a result of i feel “post furry” could be a response to those specific problems.

  8. I think there are two types of furries. One type who just likes the idea of being an anthro

    And the much more common type, who is on an epic, self-destructive quest to find some perfect configuration of physical attributes that can satisfy them sexually without having to engage with anyone in a socially meaningful way or share their emotions. It’s like the ultimate nerd dream.

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