Cleaning Up Your Animal-Unfriendly Verbiage

I was recommended by a friend to read The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams quite awhile back and I just finally got around to reading it. It is an excellent book that will make you re-evaluate the very basis of the way you think (or more accurately do NOT think) towards animals, regardless of whether or not you are a vegan or a corpse-eater. Adams routinely points out culturally accepted verbiage and symbolisms that enable you to avoid the “meat is murder” issue. A few examples from the book: a hamburger is not called cowmeat, nor are chicken wings considered chicken’s wings and the very word “meat” is not mentioned unless it is a local cultural abnormality to consume it, such as dogmeat (such as in the USA).

Moving on. If you are vegetarian, the obvious next step to ending animal enslavement is becoming vegan. Now if you are vegan, I urge you to evaluate the language you use daily. It is amazing the number of phrases and words one uses during the course of a normal day that somehow reflects poorly upon the other animals with which we share this earth. A couple I need to work on are: ass and son-of-a-bitch. Yeah I know, “curses”, big shocker to those who know me! :) If you have read the book you will see that I have no decent defense as to why I use these, except for that they are culturally accepted phrases and ingrained in my brain. But I cannot resist! My excuse is thus: I use ass as meaning a stupid or idiotic human….never thinking about donkeys (which is a sneaky aspect of our very language….) and as for son-of-a-bitch, I use it to mean, well….an ass :), never a female dog or female human. An excerpt by Noreen Mola and the Blacker Family that Carol J. Adams put into her book, The Sexual Politics of Meat, just may give you the head start you need in cleaning up your animal-unfriendly verbiage!

Language is a powerful tool. The words we choose do more than name or describe things; they assign status and value. Be careful, then, how you choose words to refer to non-human animals, for you may be using expressions that maintain prejudices against them.

Referring to a non-human animal as an “it” strips him or her of dignity and perpetuates the view that other animals are objects, inferior things or property.

Referring to people who share their homes and lives with non-human animals as “owners” or “masters” connotes slavery, and we should be uncomfortable with the connotation. Friends, companions and protectors is preferable.

Avoid calling other animals “living things.” They are living beings.

Refer to non-domestic animals as free or free-roaming, not “wild” or “wildlife.”

When referring to animal suffering and death caused by human action, use painfully explicit words that reveal the true facts. “Euthanize,” “put to sleep,” “sacrifice,” and “destroy” are favorites of animal researchers (and some animal control people), while “cull,” “harvest,” “manage,” and “thin the herd” are favorites of hunters, trappers, and their ilk. These words mean kill, so say kill.

Guilty people try to cover up their horrifying cruelties against, and backward exploitation of, non-human animals with deceptive euphemisms like the ones above. Say it like it is, and correct others when they don’t, so that people will realize the true nature and full extent of the suffering we inflict on other living beings.

Watch out, too, for expressions that convey contempt for animals. “Son-of-a-bitch,” “bird-brain,” and “hare-brain” are insults at the expense of animals. Think of alternatives to calling a person a “snake,” “turkey,” “ass,” “weasel,” “chicken,” “dog” or the like.

Liberate your language, for it’s an important step in liberating all animals!

-By Noreen Mola and The Blacker Family, Animals Agenda, 6, no.8, October 1986, p. 18

8 Comments

  1. Nella said,

    January 5, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I always got the impression that ‘ass’ meant ‘asshole’ or ‘arse’, not necessarily an animal name.

  2. Tracy said,

    January 5, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Great post! I’m going to put a link to it on my Facebook page.

    Colleen at Compassionate Cooks has at least one podcast episode devoted to this topic.

  3. mmg said,

    January 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I read this book too and it definitely affected me. One of the things I like that she points out is how feminists really should all be vegan, because they (and I am one of “them”) are opposed to the oppression of the female body, right? Well, the animals that are most oppressed just happen to be female – egg laying hens, “milk” cows, etc. It really was interesting to me.

    Great post!

  4. Ben said,

    January 5, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Yeah, but…

    We didn’t KILL our fatally sick cat. We euthanized her. When you insist that we “killed” her, you (well, not YOU you) are suggesting that you know the details of her death better than I do, and that we should not have euthanized her, but instead allowed her to linger in agony for another few days or weeks or whatever. That attitude isn’t just arrogant and presumptuous. It’s stupid.

    Likewise, “living things” doesn’t strike me as negative at all. Animals—including us humans—are living things. As opposed to nonliving or inanimate things. What’s so bad about that?

    And finally, what’s bad about “wild” animals?

  5. veganverve said,

    January 5, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Nella–yeah, I have never (unless it is brought up) said ass while considering a donkey or otherwise, I suppose “asshole” could be derived from “ass” the animal? I dunno, I don’t think I’ll get that word out of my vocabulary…ever lol

    Tracy–Thanks! I’ve only been able to listen to a few of Colleen’s podcast, but I’ll check for that one!

    mmg–Yes! For some reason the way in which she addressed things made me think of it all anew…even though I knew most of the animals subjugated were female. I do agree that true feminists should be vegan….I wonder what percentage actually are?

    Ben–I agree with the euthanize issue when it relates to such a case as you brought up (I am sorry to hear that, if it was not just a mere example but what has occurred to you.) but I believe that Noreen Mola was referring to people who kill animals in labs and such. They are just using “euthanize” as a “nicer” word to deflect the true act (such uses can be seen in lab write-ups etc.). In terms of putting a cat down because it is in severe pain, fatally ill etc, I think euthanize works well.

    I think the living things and wild animals topic that Noreen Mola addresses all has to do with our verbiage and underlying meanings (even if they are unthought of). Such as “thing,” when used alone, denotes non-living generally and not overly special necessarily. I think tone may have a lot to do with it as well. Such as saying someone’s child is a “pretty little thing” could be perceived as sweet or mean, depending upon the tone. As for “wild” animals, “wild” can connotate a negative view….such as someone has a “wild” child…..it generally is not seen as a good thing. Therefore it could be considered that “wild” animals are something not good….not to be respected even.

  6. Sara said,

    January 5, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Let’s not forget that scientists also love to use the term “sacrifice” in terms of lab animals and the killlng of them. That is one term that has always annoyed me – this animal wasn’t slaughtered in order to be offered up to a God or other divine/supernatural figure, it wasn’t killed in a religious capacity, and it certainly wasn’t given up for the sake of something more important as I don’t feel most scientists view these animals lives as more than a means to an end, not something that is valuable.

    And the use of the term “thing” often denotes something (an inanimate object) which can be possessed. A person (or other animal alike) cannot truly be possessed, and therefore should not be subject to the adjective of “thing.” Animals, including humans, are sentient beings which deserve to be given a specific name (i.e. dog, cat, person, cow). A “thing” is an inanimate material object as distinct from a living sentient being. A “thing” is an object, equipment, personal belonging, clothing… This is the a major point of the book – women, as well as all animals…ALL animals, even human males – are not things, they are beings, and should be treated as such. With regard for their life as more than mere commodities and objects to appease the whims of man.

  7. Shoshin.Seishu said,

    January 11, 2009 at 7:10 am

    As Benjamin Whorf theorized & the French Academy have furthermore elaborated:

    The structure of language shapes our ability to experience the world.

  8. Shoshin.Seishu said,

    January 11, 2009 at 7:13 am

    And by the way:

    In another instance of speciesism & its deterministic effects on language & the Weltenschauung of those who use it, how about recognizing & remembering that homo sapiens sapiens are simply one of many animal species in Kingdom Animalia?

    It is correct, therefore, to make the following distinction: human animals vs. non-human animals–& NOT the speciesistic “humans vs. animals.”


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