Breeding and Breed

Authored by: Neil Pemberton , Julie-Marie Strange , Michael Worboys

The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193260
eBook ISBN: 9780429468933
Adobe ISBN:


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With respect to animals, the word breeding is both a verb and a noun. The verb refers to their reproduction and is used for both wild and domesticated species. The noun refers to animals with breeding in the sense of pedigree heritage and selection for specific properties that has produced the division of many working, farm, fancy and pet species into ‘breeds’. These are animals that have been actively created by livestock producers, fanciers and other breeders to suit to human requirements for companionship, food, sport, work, fancy and other purposes. However, modern breeds are much more, especially in livestock and dogs, which have been bred to meet specific standards of shape, size, colour and other external features, and are presumed to have a superior inheritance given by their ancestral lineage from purebred stock. Both uses of the term have been applied to humans: the verb in a mostly derogatory manner to the lower classes, especially those with large families who have been said to ‘breed like animals’; while the noun, perhaps perversely, was used for upper-class individuals who came from ‘good families’ or ‘good stock’, where the presumed quality of biological inheritance mirrored the quantity of inherited wealth.

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