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Not that political correctness has ever been an important theme in fantasy, but I've always found "humanoid" a strange category in settings that include, say, men, elves, orcs, dwarves, goblins, and other beings.

Yes, the reader/player/audience is a human and it is perfectly useful that humans be the species by which all others are compared. But in-world, what would an academically inclined elf name the set of two-armed, two-legged individualistic-but-also-social creatures to which they themselves also belong? Surely some of his kin would take offense to the idea of being quasi-man.

My question is: Are there general alternatives to humanoid in the world of fantasy? (As opposed to science fiction, which tends to have myriad sub-classifications for every form of intelligent life).

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    $\begingroup$ what about anthropoid? $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 21 '16 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ Anthro- actually means human/human-like and has a pretty sci-fi vibe. $\endgroup$ – Itolet Aug 21 '16 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ You could call them sapients - meaning intelligent. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 21 '16 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ We call them humanoid from Latin homo, ie. human, because 20 centuries ago the Latin people conquered a lot of the world and made everyone else call humans that. If our world had anything non-human that could get its feelings hurt, and especially if it created an empire rivaling that of Rome, we would have a different word, but surely our whole language would be altered radically as well. So unless you want to make a whole new language and history bottom up, like Tolkien did, I think "humanoid" is just one of those things where you must exercise suspension of disbelief and just accept it. $\endgroup$ – Superbest Aug 21 '16 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ In Drowtales, a drow-centric webcomic, species are divided into two groups: fae (light elves, dark elves, two races of drow and fairies) and goblinoids (orcs, humans, dwarves, duergar etc.). In that webcomic there aren't goblins as a single species - anyone from a goblinoid species is a goblin. Food for thought. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 21 '16 at 20:16
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what would an academically inclined elf name the set of two-armed, two-legged individualistic-but-also-social creatures to which they themselves also belong? Surely some of his kin would take offense to the idea of being quasi-man.

They would not, because they are not aware of the word "humanoid". Only us, the readers are.

The common attitude (often implicit in less observant readers) is that the fantasy novel is in fact a story about characters which use a different language, and the novel is the "translation" into English. Usually one does not bother actually creating the language, writing in it, then translating (notable exception: Tolkien did, kind of) - they just produce an English text that's supposed to be "what you would get if a good translator had translated it".

It's important to note that the other language is not necessarily English: It may be English in all but name (ie. coincidentally has the same vocabulary and grammar), it may be a language that "coincidentally" evolved similar to English, it may have similar grammar (especially if the author assumes that grammar is genetic and not purely emergent - this is an open question is linguistics), it may be completely alien, and it may even be related to English: For instance I believe Tolkien wrote his books under the pretense that they were events that actually happened in the ancient past of England. Of course, we know what really happened in England's past, but you have to exercise suspension of disbelief. Alternatively you could say something like "thousands of years ago some humans were teleported magically to the fantasy world and they brought Indo-European languages with them".

Anyone who actually has experience with translation knows that it is rarely possible to translate 1:1, there is always room for interpretation, and something will always be lost in translation. I personally do not believe that two people who speak different language are even capable of thinking the same things in every case (this idea has some support in the linguistic research community). In fact, comparing translations of the same text by different authors can be an experience in its own right, as you will note cases where each translator has interpreted a passage in their own way. A great example is the various versions of the Bible (in English).

Fastidious translators, especially if it matters for the text in question, will usually either use the original word as a loanword (typically indicated by italics, eg. saying ramen instead of maccaroni, samurai instead of knight, daimyō instead of liege lord); or will explain the usage with a footnote (eg. "1: a samurai isn't exactly a knight, the differences are so and so, but for the sake of readability I will hereby render it as knight"). There are many examples of this in philosophy books: Because they deal with abstract, difficult to comprehend concepts, it is hard to decide how to render things correctly. Novels are less tricky, but whenever things such as complicated cultural or social mores come into play, it can very easily get very complicated (consider translating French tutoyer, which is a nonsense word in English because the social distinction does not exist - it cannot be translated).

Your best bet is to follow suit: When using humanoid, add a footnote and explain that in the world of whatever, the word used for sentient bipeds is different, and linguistically not related to the word for human. Then say that you will render this word as humanoid in English, because it is the closest available one. You have to then be careful, if you care, to not for instance make puns with "humanoid", or not have characters complain about it being anthropocentric, since, well, it's not in the original.

To invent an original English term that has the qualities you desire (well, you could just take a shortcut and go with elf-like or whatever else) you really have to learn a lot about the development of human language and human natural philosophy, and study how words were coined. Only then will you be able to produce a truly congruent substitute for "humanoid". But once you do that, only those in your audience who are likewise educated will be able to appreciate it - so it is a dubious effort anyway, similar to writing a sci-fi novel with very accurate speculative quantum physics, that is then lost on everyone but the physics professors of the world, of whom maybe 3 will even read your story.

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    $\begingroup$ Tolkien put quite a bit more thought into his languages than most authors, but he never made Westron - the language the books would have been written in - as a fully realized language, let alone actually write the 'originals' of the books in it. $\endgroup$ – Random832 Aug 22 '16 at 3:59
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    $\begingroup$ Love using footnotes. I recall being amused at Asimov and Editor having discussions in footnotes. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 22 '16 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ The opening note to Anathem by Neil Stephenson has a good discussion on this: "... Naturally, Arbre has its own plants and animals. The names of those species' rough Earth equivalents have been swapped in here to obviate digressions in which, e.g., the phenotype of the Arbre-equivalent-of-a-carrot must be explained in detail." $\endgroup$ – R.M. Aug 22 '16 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ Pratchett is also a great example of using footnotes to add "in-universe" explanations $\endgroup$ – Cristol.GdM Aug 23 '16 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ @R.M. Which is ironic, because that is precisely the kind of digression which defines Stephenson's writing. $\endgroup$ – Graham Aug 23 '16 at 12:00
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It still would be humanoid in human language. It would be more like "elfoid" in elf language, and so on.

If there ever would appear a common language, it would probably use some synthetic term.

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    $\begingroup$ And people who know both languages would agree that these two words mean the same thing. Of course the human language would describe things from a human perspective, and elven language from the elven point of view. It is absurd to pretend otherwise. We're just so politically correct that we're afraid to be perceived as anthro-centric and send everyone shrieking in terror to their Safe Spaces. $\endgroup$ – Monty Harder Aug 22 '16 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyHarder Exactly! It's only natural for Elves to be elf-centric, Dwarves to be dwarf-centric etc. in medieval times most fantasy uses as a base, only political correctness was not to piss off your baron or prince. Applying modern (over)sensitivities hardly makes snence. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 22 '16 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ @MontyHarder: actually, it's extremely likely that the words would not, in fact, mean the same thing, as human-centric and elf-centric viewpoints would consider different characteristics crucial and others irrelevant. For example, "elfoid" might require natural affinity to magic and end up excluding humans, but put less importance on anatomy and include races we don't consider humanoid, like centaurs (are centaurs humanoid by our definition? They have more than 2 legs). The elves might then have another, more inclusive word but that could then include animals. $\endgroup$ – Michael Borgwardt Aug 23 '16 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelBorgwardt most words we consider translations of each other actually mean slightly different thing between languages, or at least language families. Think sandwich in English and kanapka in Polish. On the other hand, in a world where some magic spells works on all and only on humanoids, every race with mages would have word for this specific group. So it is extremely likely that these words would either mean the same thing, or with deviation close to real word words considered to mean the same thing. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 23 '16 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Molot: that was exactly my point, that it's normal for words not to map 1:1 and instead only overlap more or less. Of course if there is magic that has this category as a clearly-delineated restriction and works the same across magic users from different species, then there would be completely equivalent words for this category. But I think what we're really looking at here is a human-centric viewpoint of people who invent such magic systems, and a world-building effort that aims to transcent human-centrism should have magic that works differently. $\endgroup$ – Michael Borgwardt Aug 23 '16 at 10:04
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Call all humanoids bi-pedals.

If there is anything to be learnt from George Orwell's "Animal Farm" (ignoring, of course, the sociopolitical warning of dictator-lead communism and corrupt regimes), is that Humans are the only true bi-pedals. It is argued (I believe by Squealer, but I may be wrong) that all other seemingly bi-pedal animals (such as birds, monkeys) use their 'arms' as a method of propulsion. Only humans reserve 'arms' for function and not for propulsion, going hand-in-hand (if you'll pardon the pun) with higher intelligence and the dexterity/function-over-strength evolution of arms.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how this answers the question? Birds and monkeys correlate to Elves, dwarves, and goblins in what way? Are you implying that only humans use hands for function and dwarves use them for propulsion? $\endgroup$ – Culyx Aug 22 '16 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Matthew. Please note that the Worldbuilding SE is not a discussion forum; answers are expected to answer the question as asked. As is, this post does not appear to have any relevance to the OP's question. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 22 '16 at 15:56
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All the options I can think of sound kinda science and might not fit the tone of a fantasy game/novel.

1)Homo - The scientific classification for anything in our genus. Still sounds quite human centric though.

2)Sapients - means smart/intelligent. Only works if the humanoids are the only intelligent life.

3)Bi-pedals - means two legged which is a fairly physical description of most humanoids.

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    $\begingroup$ Bipedal fits chicken pretty well... $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 21 '16 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Molot Bipedal sapient? Sapient primate? $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 21 '16 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ Homo-* only sounds human-centric because the rest of our genus is extinct. If elves, dwarves, goblins, etc. are genetically related (e.g.same genus) then using the genus name makes sense. Or family name if they're from more than one genus. For example, maybe elves and humans are in one genus (they can interbreed usually), dwarves are in another genus, amd all of the goblins and orcs are in a third. Then you can refer to them generally by the family name, whether you use Hominidae or a made-up word for a fictional language/classification. If they're all unrelated then it's different. $\endgroup$ – zstewart Aug 22 '16 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ I assume they are all genus homo. They must all be primate at the very least. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 22 '16 at 20:57
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I suspect that's why we see the separation in Warcraft between the Alliance and the Horde. The humanoid races versus the less than humanoid races.

For the purpose of a story though you could follow something similar to Mass Effect for example.

The Council races (races with representatives on the council) can be more human-like in their appearances. Non-council races can be less human-like.

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The Term "Humanoid" describes beings of 2 arms, 2 legs, a torso and a head, additionally a tail may be added. Any being that differs from this makeup would need other decriptors. Some of these are:

  • Dracomorph: Usually scales, reptilian skull structure, possibly wings. Even if basically humanoid in makeup, things like Kobolds get tagged Dracomorph instead at times. This term also catches full dragons or Wyverns though - it is like a catch-all-phrase for anything dragon-like.
  • Feline/felinoid: implies catlike features but also a humanoid base setup, usually adding tail and fur.

Now, while these are still "humanoid" in their setup (walking on 2 legs, free hands), there are terms for more "alien" builds:

  • Insectoid: This implies Mandibles and an insect-like skull and body, including 6 sets of legs/arms and possibly wings, also trachea breathing and facette eyes.
  • Arachnoid: 8 legs, mandibles, multiple eyes, spider-like skull and body architecture
  • (Cen)taur: Posessing 4 legs instead of 2 and being some animal-human-hybrid thing makes a being a centaur

Still, if it is skinny, has 2 legs and 2 arms and a single head, all connected to a torso, it is a humanoid. But that word has its synonyms, that reflect this makeup:

  • anthropomorphic ("built like a human")
  • anthropoid ("walking like a human")
  • biped ("walking on 2 feet")
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    $\begingroup$ I don’t think the OP disputes this or is unaware of how the words are used. He’s asking for similar terms with different etymology. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 22 '16 at 7:46
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from a purely taxonomical perspective, all the human-shaped creatures are probably either great apes, simians, primates, or marsupials. so sapient simians would work well. or you could use the term men to mean both humans and other primate-shaped people. of course, then you have gender ambiguity issues.

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