Meaning Within a Subculture

This is an idea that has been tumbling around in my head ever since I started this site. In fact, I suppose you could call a lot of my earlier posts a sort of fumbling around as I tried to articulate this idea. The idea that I’m talking about is the concept of what furry is. That is, not only what a makes a furry a furry, but how is furry a thing, and where did we all come from. A lot of the articles on this site have come at this idea from different angles, but usually focusing on a single aspect or in a stream-of-consciousness manner.

When I write posts for [a][s], I do so in what’s called the “watercolor strategy”, as named by Daniel Chandler in The Act of Writing. That is, for the most part, I start at the beginning, and when I get to the end, I stop. It’s a strategy that, to my mind, would work almost solely for the introspective writer, one who internalizes a subject, then blasts it out on to paper (or screen). The idea is that one works as one does with watercolor, where there is no real way to correct a mistake or change what one has done – one must simply start at the beginning and continue until one feels that the work is done, then stop. There is no editing along the way, as there would be in the “oil painting strategy”; with oils, one has the ability to paint over the paint already in place without worrying about muddying the painting or ruining the paper. As Chandler quotes in the section on the watercolor strategy, “rewrite in process…interferes with flow and rhythm, which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material” (Plimpton, 1989, quoted in Chandler)[1].

In a lot of posts, this has worked well. I think that I often work in short enough sections that I can hold most of the article in my head with only the barest of sketches taken down mostly as reminders to what I had already planned rather than a true outline (which would be the “architectural” or “bricklaying” strategies).

My process has occasionally come back to haunt me in that I’ve incompletely captured an idea. It happened very early on when I wrote about the default furry, which eventually turned into the post about doxa: what I was trying to name in the “default furry” post wasn’t so much trends in character creation as the fact that there is a factual basis for much of what we take for granted within the fandom.

One of the big things that keeps me coming back to these subjects is the standard artist’s complaint that I’m never really satisfied with the product. I can barely even call myself an artist, here – so much of what I’ve done with [a][s] is rehashing ideas I’ve heard of or learned about in a non-furry context within the context of furry, and this piece here is no exception. Rather, I’m one with artistic habits.

I was unhappy with both of my posts on “participation mystique”. It’s such a wonderful concept and fits so perfectly with the contiguous fandom that I couldn’t get it out of my head. All the same, I couldn’t seem to get down exactly what I wanted to with it. The first post turned into an idea of how members identify with the fandom, which is close to, but not exactly participation mystique. The second post veered off course and into (still related) waters of the definition of our subculture.

That those posts feel as though they inadequately captured what I wanted to grates on me, so I feel that, as the person best in a position to correct my mistakes, I probably ought to. In order to do that, however, I’m going to have to start with a little bit of background that I’ve picked up over the last few weeks of study and years of background on the subject even if it isn’t immediately applicable to this furry site, and I’m going to have to abandon the watercolor strategy and at least work toward the architectural strategy. It may be a bit of a long travel, and I’m sorry if I wind up coming off as boring, but I believe that a lot of these ideas are pertinent to figuring out what is going on with the fandom, and why the concept of membership is important. If nothing else, I find the concepts very interesting, and I think that many others will as well.

A Linguistic Introduction

I’d like to begin here with a basic introduction on some of the linguistics that are involved in exploring meaning in the fandom. There’s a very important reason for this which I’ll go into more depth on later, but for now, it will suffice to say that language is important to us because our fandom is wrapped up in it. We describe our characters, we write stories about furries, and, above all, we communicate; we are a social fandom. Language is always important to subcultures such as ours which subsist on social interaction.

There is an argument to be made that language, rather than being a defined entity, is simply a collection of idiolects. Dialect is a commonly known word, of course, but language can be broken down further to the speech patterns used by an individual. Each person’s pattern of language use is unique to them, just as their handwriting and fingerprints are unique. This is their idiolect. The argument here is that, despite pervailing attitudes within the United States and elsehwere, a language is made up of its mutually comprehensible dialects, which are spoken by individuals with all of their unique idiolects.

I bring this up not only because it’s fascinating (to me, at least), but because there is another step in there that’s missing between idiolect and dialect, and that is the sociolect. A sociolect is the subset of a language that is shared among a social group. While this may have started with the difference between the language spoken by different social classes, with the growth of the middle class, particularly of skilled workers, the numnber of recognized sociolects has grown. My partner, a machinist by trade, is able to share this language within the social group of other machinists. When they go on “thou”, “scrap”, “tombstones”, “jobshops,” and “print-to-part,” they can understand each other within the context of their social group.

Similarly, the fandom has started to pull together its own sociolect formed of the collected idiolects of its members. That we have our own “jargon” with words like “fursona”, “hybrid”, and “taur”[2] that goes along with our membership to this nebulous group helps to define the fact that we have become a more well-defined subculture, or, to put it better, a community. A community, in this sense, is a coherent group composed of multiple actors, and that is just what we are within the fandom: we act within and upon it, both taking from and adding to it by way of our membership. It works to say it either way: our sociolect is a combination of our idiolects because we are a community composed of members, and we are a community composed of members because we have our sociolect as a combination of our idiolects – our ways of communicating made up of those who communicate with each other.

Put this way, we can come up with a sort of hierarchy of language. A language is comprised of dialects and sociolects, subsets of the overall language based around social, economic, or geopolitical groups. The dialects and sociolects, in turn, are made up of the individial idiolects of their members. There, of course, some mixing due to new speakers of the language and borrowed terms, but also due to the fact that individuals often belong to more than one social group, and thus may take part in more than one sociolect or dialect – my partner is a machinist, but he is also a furry, for instance. A good example might be the apparent dichotomy between “realistic” and “toony” furry art, perhaps due to the overlap between the furry subculture and the art world (whereas “realism” isn’t something I hear much at my own job as a programmer).

Much of this focus on our means of communication ties into the Internet and the prominence of its role within the fandom. There’s really no doubting that a good portion of the fandom “grew up” on the net. The ways in which it facilitates communication between individuals or groups regardless of geographic location fits in so well with a fandom that bases so much of its existence around social interaction. There are a few terms that become important due to this fact, namely “text”, “corpus”, “medium”, and “modality”. A “text” is a unit of communication, whether it’s a journal post, an image and all of its associated discussion, such as comments, or a webpage like this. A “corpus” is a collection of related texts – this post would be a text, but [adjective][species] would be a corpus – though it can be taken in broader terms, such as the collection of all different texts on FurAffinity – images, journals, comments, user pages – or simply the collection of all texts within our subculture: the furry corpus, if you will.

“Medium” and “modality” are similarly intertwined. The “medium” is, obviously enough, the way in which a text reaches us, and the “modality” is what the text is constructed of. For instance, words and language would be the modality, whereas that can be divided into written words read off a screen on a webpage, or spoken words shared among a group of friends at a convention. The reason I’m bringing up these terms is that, taken together, they form our social interaction within the fandom, and the reason that it’s /important/ is because, in particular, our choices of media and corpi are language in and of themselves: that is, that we rely on the Internet for so much of our communication, whether out of necessity or desire, and allow the idiolects that we’ve formed on the ‘net to creep into our verbal communications with each other is something of a statement in and of itself.

Put another way, our medium is important because it involves the concepts of human-computer interaction (HCI) and computer (or, more specifically, Internet) mediated communication (IMC). The first, HCI, is important because computers are not free-form entities through which we may communicate however we want. Instead, we communicate through the specific media of SecondLife, through comments on submissions on FA, through MUCKs, MUDs, IRC, and IMs. The actual means of intereaction within each is different from each other, and certainly different than other media. For instance, posing actions, and thus role-playing, are quite simple on MU*s and IRC, and thus more common, whereas the same is not true of instant messages and the less-immediate form of comment threads and forums. The latter concept of IMC becomes particularly evident in SecondLife, where the action taken by your character on the screen is distanced from reality by necessity. Shooting a gun, turning a cartwheel, or doing a dance are all usually thought of physical activities offline, but on SecondLife, they are all the result of commands typed in by the user or accessed via the mouse on a head up display.

It’s an easy thing to say that communication is the basis of our subculture, but more difficult to express it in terms of the source and result of a sociolect comprised of the colliding idiolects of its members. While that is far from the only thing that furry has going for it, it’s a definite signifier of our being a society in our own right, and one of the easiest to perceive, once one takes a step back. We have settled our concentration certain media for a variety of reasons – the ease of constructing an avatar on the Internet, the mediated sharing of texts through different websites and services, and the ‘net’s way of connecting individuals across distance. Our choice of media is a form of communication in a way, though not simply due to the benefits to be gained from it. There is more, though, to be sure.

On Semiotics

When I first heard about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, I rejected it immediately. It states, in brief, that the way we conceive of the world around us, the way we assign meaning to things, is shaped entirely by the language that we use to describe that meaning. I think that part of the reason that I had such a negative reaction to the idea right off the bat was that I learned about the hypothesis via the constructed language lojban. The idea behind lojban (always written with a lower-case ‘l’) is that, if the way we think is shaped by the language we use, than a language that is totally and completely “logical” ought to help one to think totally and completely logically.

That idea really grated on me for a few reasons. First of all, I was in a Madrigal choir at the time, and while the Madrigal came from the Renaissance period, much of the words to the songs spend time evoking romantic imagery. That, and much of the songs we performed weren’t exactly Madrigals in their own right, but composed later in the Romantic or Neo-romantic eras. Put simply, I was a teenager inundated in romanticism – the concept of being able to explain everything only with logical terms and without the metaphor inherent in romanticism didn’t jive with me. Additionally, having been brought up by two atheist parents, I was going through my own spiritual renaissance at the time, and so I was always finding these neat, non-spatiotemporal, sometimes ineffible ideas around myself, whether it be religion or something more new-agey.

I was a non-Whorfian, basically. I believed, at the time, that we fit words entirely to the meanings that exist independently of those words. There is certainly an argument to be made for that, as well. We all, in one way or another, are able to perceive what a “tree” is. There’s a way for us to scientifically define it, and there isn’t necessarily a way for us to claim that a tree is only a tree because we have all conceived of the language for defining what a tree is.

I’m no longer fifteen, though, and things have changed. I have had my own experience with the way that meaning comes to us through language or signs of some sort, not least of all with my attempts at such things with these articles. I think that I might now call myself a believer in Moderate Whorfianism. In his book The Act of Writing, Daniel Chandler explains that many linguists would find extreme Whorfianism hard to swallow, but may accept a weak version of it as defined in the following way:

  • the emphasis is on the poitential for thinking to be ‘influenced’ rather than unavoidably ‘determined’ by language;
  • it is a two-way process, so that ‘the kind of language we use’ is also influenced by ‘the way we see the world’
  • any influence is ascribed not to ‘Language’ as such or to one language as compared with another, but to the use within a language of one variety rather than another (typically a sociolect – the language used primarily by members of a particular social group)
  • emphasis is given to the social context of language use rather than to purely linguistic considerations, such as the social pressure in particular contexts to use language in one way rather than another.[1]

This leads us to the next topic of discussion: semiotics. There is argument as to whether or not linguistics is a subset of semiotics, or vice versa. Whereas linguistics aims to tackle the use and meaning of language, semiotics aims to tackle the use and language of meaning. They are certainly closely related – given that language, written language specifically, but also speech, provides a measureable, non-objective metric to study, much of semiotics deals with the use of words within a certain context to either ascribe or convey meaning, as well as the additional meaning conveyed via word choice.

Beyond that, however, semiotics also takes into account such things as the medium and modality of communication, regardless of whether it has to do with words. Semiotics is just as comfortable looking at body language and posture, meaning conveyed through the layout of a webpage, or even additional meanings conveyed through art, which most definitely has something to with our own subculture. That is, rather than focusing on language itself, semiotics focuses on the meanings conveyed between actors within a community. It is not that linguistics has nothing to do with meaning, nor that it doesn’t take the social context into account, simply that that focusing specifically on those areas is the realm of semiotics, instead.

The process of ascribing meaning to a sign – be it a word, a gesture, music, or some aspect of a piece of visual art – is known as semiosis. Semiosis isn’t something that happens on it’s own, we don’t ascribe meaning to the word “tree” without having some framework in which to ascribe that meaning. Signs are parts in the whole of sign systems or “codes”. A code could be a language, but using that word in particular is a poor choice, because language always takes place within some context and carries additional signifiers along with it. “Tree” said calmly, for instance, carries different connotations than “TREE!” shouted fearfully. Even in a text-only environment such as this, the punctuation and capitalization are signs in and of themselves. All of this is taking place within a cultural context, as well. With language in particular, the sign (a word) is a portion of a code that is shared among actors in a community, whether it’s the community of English-speakers (a language) or the community of people interested in anthropomorphics interacting online (the sociolect of furries on the Internet).

This all goes to show that semiotics goes beyond the individual. The webcomic xkcd recently performed quite a feat[3] by displaying a different comic to different viewers. The comic that was chosen depended not only on the viewer’s choice of browser, but also on their location and even the size of their browser window. The title of the comic was “Umwelt”, which is the collection of sign-relations (briefly, the pair of sign-meaning, or the triad of sign-interpretant-meaning) that make up one’s perception of the world. We cannot help to do anything outside our umwelt, other than to assimilate new meanings into it through semiosis.

We aren’t nearly so solipsistic, though, and so every time our umwelt collides with another through interpersonal relationships, we influence each other. When umwelten group together naturally through an attractor such as a mutual interest, we wind up with a semiotic niche. That is, when a social group forms, a sociolect can form with them due to the way the group steers semiosis, the way it finds meaning.

These semiotic niches work much the same way as umwelten, in that they can converge and share boundaries – they all, after all, take part in the world of meaning around them, known as the semiosphere. That is, something like furry will share its meaning not only with Internet culture, but also western culture, anime culture to some extent, and, as a whole, belongs to this whole perceived world around us. Beyond the semiosphere, “language not only does not function, it does not exist.”[4] Without some framework for meaning, be it words, visual art, music, or anything, there is only formless thought.

If we were to modify our language hierarchy to be about semiotics (helpfully done in advance), it would look something like this, then. Similar to the idea that languages are made up of sociolects and dialects, which are in turn made up of idiolects, so too is the semiosphere made up of semiotic niches, which are in turn made up of the umwelten of individual members, the combined basis for creating meaning in the world around us. This is, of course, a necessary gloss over the field of semiotics, which is quite large. The goal of this article isn’t to go into commutation tests and syntactic analysis of furry works, though, just to provide a groundwork of the concepts of language and semiotics in the fandom.

It is within this construct of signs and meaning that we not only form our ideas of what means “tree”, what an image of a tree is and what it represents, but what abstract concepts such as our subculture are and what they’re made up of. As individuals and members, or even as outsiders looking in, we build the sign-relations, we come up with the meaning of what is and is not furry, each to our own. It is where those interpretations meet and generate a coherent idea of furry within more than just the individual’s point of view that we wind up with the furry fandom itself.

Tying it all together

At some point, the furry fandom started to coalesce. Some would put it in the 1980s – a reader and friend posits that the fandom really got started September 1st, 1980 at Noreascon with Steve Gallacci[5] – some would put it much, much earlier, and some perhaps later, into the ’90s when the Internet became truly accessible. For the sake of this artcle and much of this site in general, we’d probably go with some time in the mid to late ’80s for the source of the fandom. This was the time when the umwelten, the spheres of meaning for individuals, began to collide in enough numbers to form that critical mass that led to the formation of a subculture rather than a collection of enthusiasts. Furries doubtless existed before, as is certainly evident even within our own readership, but the furry fandom as a culture phenomenon, the basis of study for much of this site (rather than individual furries themselves), relied upon this interest being actively shared among ur-members.

It was a sort of participatory semiosis that helps to define the exploratory beginnings of any new social group. It wasn’t so much that individuals hadn’t come up with the idea of fox-people before, as that now they were in the process of finding meaning in the fact that there was a cultural identity to be had, and assigning it to the signs of “funny animal” and furry, to foxes and cats leading extraordinary or banal lives, to the very feeling of membership. In her book Straight, Hanne Blank makes a similar argument that the growth of heterosexuality (and its complement, homosexuality) was due in part to the process of self identificiation, the semiosis among individuals that reached a critical mass after a few influential authors such as Freud became widely read.

In short, I tend to focus on what I’m calling the “contiguous fandom”. That is, a fandom made of of members which share the borders of their umwelten, the meanings attached to the sign that is ‘furry’, in order to create a coherent whole of a fandom. This is the importance of membership; it is the act of being actors in a community that helps to define the community as an entity.

Another way to think of it is that this is our participation mystique. By basing part of one’s identity on one’s membership to an idea or community, one helps to define both oneself and the thing of which one is a member. To put it in the terms of linguistics above, we readily adopt our sociolect. Remember here that we’re taking into account all of the signs available to us. Not only are we taking in this social interaction using words in a furry context, but we’re always taking in the visual aspect of furry art and the participatory aspect of conventions, fursuiting, and so on.

Beyond just adopting the sociolect, however, we’re continuously adding to it. We aren’t just passive observers, but we are actively participating in the creation of new texts, whether it’s voicing our appreciation of art, taking part in role-playing, or even running a silly meta-furry blog where one talks about the semiotics of the furry subculture.

Given the contiguous fandom, I can’t continue without providing some thoughs on what’s “outside” that mostly coherent group of individuals that make up furry. There is also importance in not being a member, in not having that participation mystique. When it comes to signs in semiotics, there is a loose division into dyadic and triadic signs. With dyadic signs, you simply have one entity assigning the meaning of what a tree is to the sign “tree”, but in triadic signs, one has the additional context of just who it is that is doing the assigning alongside what is is that is being assigned. This is the interpretant sign the one to whom “I” and “you” hold meaning as opposed to one and the other, and, although it’s abstract, it becomes very important when it comes to membership.

When someone says “I am a furry”, they are using a dyadic sign to signify that a portion of themselves is defined as a member of the furry community. However, when someone says “that person is a furry”, then the sign shifts to being triadic: the interpretant is taking an active role in specifying that a sign (“furry”) signifies an object (“that person”). Someone can always construct their own sign relations at any time, but when it involves a third party, it has the tendency of muddying the waters of the semiotic niche (after all, if it were straight-forward, there wouldn’t be much discussion to have).

What this means is that someone can certainly contribute to the sociolect without necessarily becoming a member of the society which owns it. There are more than enough examples of this to go around: Watership Down and “Robin Hood”, or perhaps Coyote or Raven or Jackal. The creators of these signs and contexts did not necessarily take up membership in the furry social group, but they certainly did add to the niche of language and meaning that has been carved out over the last thirty years or so. This is complicated even further by the fact that the niche is made up of a community of actors rather than just one: something like Coyote as trickster may seem plenty furry to one member of the community, but only tangentially so, if at all, to another.

There are a few problems surrounding this concept of furry as a semiotic niche, and they have to do with the depth at which one analyzes the fandom, or the distance from it one stands. If, for example, one were to step back from furry a little ways, one can look at it a different way and see it in the context of a related field: genre theory.

Furry as a genre is, on the surface, not a surprising concept. One can think of furry literature just as easily as one considers fantasy literature, or perhaps historical fiction. There is an underlying topic that lays beneath the corpi of all three genres. However, as Chandler puts it, “The classification and hierarchical taxonomy of genres is not a neutral and ‘objective’ procedure.”[6] The important point here is that the difference between objective and subjective interpretation is, in the terms of semiotics, the act of subjective interpretation is a sign in and of itself. That so many furries today would consider Disney’s “Robin Hood” to be a furry movie holds meaning both in regards to the object of the film and the fuzzy interpretants themselves. It is difficult even for me to interpret the movie outside of a furry context – I saw it first in Elementary school, and even then spent time drawing foxes afterwards. Needless to say, genre’s a difficult thing to determine from within.

This leads us to the second issue of determining a definition from within or without. If we bring back the concept of Moderate Whorfianism, this becomes more evident. In that context, language influences thinking, but if the thinking is the process of defining either one’s membership within the community, or, more dangerously, defining the community as a whole as we are here, then a feedback loop is started. If our contributions to the sociolect modify the sociolect that we’re in the process of studying, even individually, then it becomes even more difficult to pin down. This is quite the problem when studying the fandom from within.

Studying the fandom from outside introduces other related risks, however. It’s difficult to study something like this from the outside, as well, without having some concept of the use of the texts involved within their context. That is, it seems like studying a participatory corpus such as that of the output of our subculture without participating as well has the risk of coming up with an incomplete mental map of what all is going on. A good example of this (and I do mean good – the studies are well worth reading) would be the work of Kathleen Gerbasi, such as her study Furries A to Z (Anthropomoprhism to Zoomorphism)[7]. While the study is well conducted and provides a good, in-depth look at the fandom, entries to her livejournal page indicate an involvement with the fandom not quite at the level of membership, but perhaps above simple scientific observation.

There is, it seems, a bit of indeterminacy when it comes to studying something such as a social phenomenon. By investigating or defining, we change, or at least risk changing that which is investigated or defined. It’s part of the aforementioned feedback loop, as certainly the goal of the investigator is to be changed in some way by the thing being investigated. That’s what gaining knowledge is all about.

Finally, the furry corpus in particular is extremely difficult to analyze. This is mostly due to the proliferation of texts, media, and modalities. We produce a lot. It is to the point where it’s even difficult to break the corpus down beyond lines other than simply different media. Even those lines are blurred by the profuse cross-sharing of information across media, such as the reposting on twitter of FA journals that link to one or several images, potentially hosted on other sites.

There is, of course, plenty of writing to go by within the fandom. It’s not simply writing for the sake of adding to the furry genre, such as it is, though, but writing in the form of image descriptions, journals, and rants on twitter. The idea is carried further to social interaction with written language, through twitter conversations, comments on images, role-playing, and instant messaging. Beyond the word, however, there is our focus on visual art; whether or not visual art is the primary draw to the fandom is certainly up for debate, but there is a reason that one of the primary social hubs online is an art website and one of the big draws at conventions is the art-show and dealers den.

There are more complex forms of communication than static text and images, though, and here is where things become quite difficult to analyze in any meaningful way. Fursuits, for instance, provide communication in a visual medium similar to that as art – they are pleasing to look at and express the meaning of the character they are intended to embody – but they are also an interactive medium. A medium that can move and talk, can hug and bounce and stalk and take on a life of its own.

And beyond even the concept of extending one’s character into a costume one can don, there is our social interaction that happens on a more mundane basis, yet still within the boundaries of “furry interaction”. There is an acceptable behavior, however ill-defined, that goes along with being a furry. It’s difficult to speak of beyond tendancies and social cues, as many such social customs that come with membership in a subculture or fandom. It has been noted before, though, that one can tell the furries at a furry convention and a furmeet apart from the non-furs. There’s a way that we act, which likely has much more to do with the idea of shared membership and social status than an interest in animals. JM, for instance, writes about the prevalence of geekiness and the behavioral norms that go along with it as they pertain to our fandom[8].

There are subtle cues and portions of our sociolect all over the place, though, and it doesn’t always have to do with direct communication between actors in the community. The subtler things such as structures in websites (Flickr and DeviantArt, for instance, don’t have a category option specifically for species) and conventions (the previously mentioned focus on dissemination of texts through the artshow and dealers areas), or even in media already geared toward social interaction such as MUCKs (again with a species flag) and SecondLife (where one can purchase a skin not only of the species of one’s character, but of the exact color required).

Furry is a heady mix of a full slice of human society that somehow seems to remain topical. We have the glue of our mutual interest in anthropomorphics, but beyond that, we have spread our corpus across several different texts in our own personal ways of generating meaning within the context of our subculture. By the interaction of our own spheres of meaning we have generated our own semiotic niche, however fuzzy around the edges, and come up with this idea of “furry”. There’s no real easy way to pull it apart, even given as broad a topic as semiotics, but by investigating and participating, we always seem to expand it all the further.


This thing we call “furry” is clearly more difficult to pin down than one simple article or even a whole website will cover. It’s something that I’d tried before in a few different ways. In fact, it seems to be something that everyone tries as part of their membership dues. Every now and then, once a month or so, I’ll come across a journal post of someone else’s take on the whole fandom, and the beautiful (and yes, a little frustrating) part of it is that they’re all totally different.

We can make at least one statement, having taken all of this into account, though. Furry is a complex interaction of actors within a social community surrounding an already complex sign-meaning relationship. Beyond that, though, the issue grows complex by our reliance on two main modalities: natural language, which is always prone to misinterpretation; and visual art, which is only barely analyzable, and limited further, anyhow, by the medium of primarily hand-drawn images. Both of these are inherently ambiguous, and often based on aesthetics and identification on a per-member basis. That is, what is furry to one is not necessarily furry to another, or even the creator. The final level of obfuscation comes through the means with which so many interact with the fandom, via a willfully constructed avatar, something which does not match the individual themselves out of necessity.

This article and any like it will have it’s necessary downsides. We didn’t really get anywhere, all told – we defined some terms in order to help us understand the ways in which we interact with our subculture, both throught the linguistic concept of a sociolect, a language used among our co-fans, and the semiotic concept of a niche, a set of meanings and sign relations shared by the members of the niche. It’s hard to get anywhere with either, though, especially in such a loose-weaved community. Semiotics and lingustics are all about statements of subtle facts made out in the open. There are concrete tests and analyses to be done (if one could port the commutation test to our visual art in order to find the “graphemes” of muzzles and tails, that could lead to interesting results), but they’re difficult to really do well, and even if they were, it’s not guaranteed that they would lead to any results, nor if any of the results would even be welcome.

There are positives to be had as well, though. I hope that the article has provided more insight into the the linguistics and semiotics of the fandom. The ideas of sociolects and genres are a good way to think about this broad base of which we are a part, because they provide a foundation of words on which we can base our own explanations of what it means to be a furry. And, beyond the definitions, it’s nice to maintain a certain sort of disputability. It allows for a greater membership through greater self identification – more people can become furry because the definition of what furry is can accomodate them. And hey, that sense of mystery about the fandom is always nice, as well. It’s a hook for bringing in new members, and for keeping the old ones interested, too.

I know this has been a little out of the norm, but I wanted to actually take my time to research an article and provide a more coherent look at the reasons for studying the fandom, and for this site in general. These things are important to us, too. The meanings we create determine our interactions within the fandom and how they take place. Beyond that, though, by participating in our community as members, we contribute to it. This is how we grow, explore, and find meaning,

Where to go from here? Well, I hope that the cognizance of the signs around us is helpful in a way. Every word, every piece of art, and every interaction between members is a sign from which we can glean a message and to which we can attach our own individual meanings, however mundane. The meanings inherent in these relations surround us and help define our membership, and we’re certainly always creating more. If nothing else, there’s always more work to go when it comes to exploring the furry subculture.


[1] Chandler, Daniel. “The Act of Writing”. accessed April 3, 2012.

[2] Zik. “furry lexicon”. accessed, April 2, 2012.

[3] Munroe, Randall. “Umwelt”. accessed April 1, 2012.

[4] Lotman, Yuri M. On the semiosphere. (Translated by Wilma Clark) Sign Systems Studies, 33.1 (2005). accessed April 5, 2012.

[5] Geddes, M.” The History of the Furry Fandom, Pt 1″ (2012).

[6] Chandler, Daniel. “An Introduction to Genre Theory”. accessed April 7, 2012.

[7] Gerbasi, Kathleen. “Furries A to Z (Anthropomorphism to Zoomorphism) in “Society and Animals”, 16, 197-222. accessed March 15, 2012.

[8] JM. “Geeks”. accessed April 9, 2012.