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Articles Reflecting a Vegan Lifestyle From All-Creatures.org

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FROM Zahava Katz-Perlish, IAmAnAnimalToo.com
June 2018

We must strive to use a positive and dignified vocabulary vis-à-vis our fellow earthlings. One that promotes the same values we share with our fellow human beings: fairness, justice and the right to live free of harm.

Pigs Piglets

Dedicated to my husband, Marc Perlish, who was the driving force behind the subject of this blog post...

Words are powerful and important. They mirror our worldview, values and relationships with others. They also influence and shape our behavior and actions. That’s true when it comes to nonhuman animals; how we talk and write about them reflects our perception of them and affects how we treat, or rather, mistreat fellow creatures.

Language can be harmful. Racist and sexist lingo should not be tolerated even when the people it’s directed at are not present. It’s inappropriate because it validates the wrong notion that some people are inferior and thus gives legitimacy to their oppression or discrimination. The same can be said about speciesist language; it reinforces our embedded prejudice and bigotry towards nonhuman animals, and in turn, drives their abuse and exploitation for our pleasure and benefit.

In our culture nonhuman animals are thought of as lesser beings. They’re used as property, commodities and tools, whose purpose is to supply humans with their “needs”, from their flesh, milk and eggs, to their skin, hair and feathers. This is reflected and reaffirmed by referring to nonhuman animals as if they were things, using it instead of she or he, her or him, its instead of her or his, and that instead of who. Our language, much like our behavior, is not thoughtful nor respectful towards our fellow earthlings.

Animals in no way are inferior to us. Most importantly, they’re similar to us in one way that really matters, they can feel. Referring to a nonhuman animal as it desensitizes us to her feelings, pain, and suffering. If you call a hen it, it’s easier to disregard her lifelong enslavement and brutal killing, when you eat her flesh.

Another aspect of speciesist lingo is the use of euphemisms. For instance, words such as cull, euthanize, sacrifice (animals in labs), and harvest, are used to refer to the murder of healthy living beings. Nonhuman animals have the right to live and their killing is not less painful than the killing of humans. Using sanitized words to describe their demise is aimed at making violent actions against sentient beings more palatable to humans.

Even our companion animals are referred to in a demeaning manner, pets. Here is Merriam–Webster’s definition of the word pet: “a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility”. The definition itself echoes humans’ attitude towards animals – companion animals are kept for our own benefit – our pleasure, and not so the animals would have a home, shelter, food and company. The words “not for utility” imply that animals are typically being kept for utility, much like inanimate objects.

The semantic distinction of humans vis-à-vis companion animals reveals the same attitude, we’re owners and masters, as if our animal companions are merely chattel. A few years ago, my friend, Rita Anderson, initiated a successful campaign to change city ordinances in Boulder Colorado, from owner to guardian, a word that implies stewardship rather than ownership. Rita also directed a national campaign called ”They Are Not Our Property, We Are Not Their Owners”. Many other cities, such as Berkeley, California, have followed suit. Isn’t the word guardian so much more thoughtful and respectful than the word owner?

One of the most degrading words is animals when used as an offensive metaphor to describe barbaric human beings. The irony is that nonhuman animals do not behave like the so called animals; they do not kill millions and millions of their own kind, nor do they commit any of the atrocities humans inflict on them. For instance, they don’t forcibly impregnate other animals year after year in order to produce milk, nor do they drink the milk of other animals – all are immoral actions that amount to sexual abuse, oppression and theft.

Another use of the word animals is to express injustice such as in “we are treated like animals”, or, “we are not animals”. Those senseless phrases demonstrate the acceptance of animal mistreatment in our society.

I find it heartbreaking that so many animal names carry negative connotations; rat, pig, ape, snake, chicken, to mention a few. It’s interesting that very few animals are spared; even “man’s best friend”, dog, is a derogatory word. And not only in English but in other languages as well. For example, in Hebrew and Arabic, the word dog and the words son of a dog are both used as insults for someone who is considered a bad person. Anyone who is familiar with dogs knows that regarding them as bad creatures is absurd. To me doggies are the epitome of goodness! And equating chicken with cowardice is ridiculous; if you met a rooster you’d know that chickens are not cowards, the opposite, they are brave and protective. I recall the rooster whom my mother raised in our yard. I confess, I was afraid of him; whoever went near him was risking an attack, except for my mom who was the only person who could walk nonchalantly by the aloof bird.

Our idioms also reflect the cruel treatment of animals in our society. I was appalled to see on social media a dog rescuer use the expression “to kill two birds with one stone”. This phrase is so violent, why use it when referring to innocent, harmless animals? Why not say something cheerful and positive such as “feeding two birds with one scone”?

Another barbaric expression is “there are more ways than one to skin a cat”. Why would you even want to imagine one way? And why use brutal imagery in regards to an animal that is magnificent and so many of us love and keep in our homes?

In the English language, pigs top all other animals in being the subject of disparaging idioms. “Lipstick on a pig” is according to Wikipedia “a rhetorical expression, used to convey the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product or person.” The word pig represents “the true nature” which in this context, is negative. However pigs are beautiful animals; they are also intelligent (even smarter than dogs), playful and social. Let’s be frank, the only animals who use lipstick because they feel they need to beautify themselves, are humans.

Recently the New York magazine’s cover depicted Trump as a pig, by replacing his nose with a pig’s snout. The picture aimed to portray him as a corrupt and greedy person. So here’s a media outlet that is supposed to stand for justice, fairness and truth, doing the exact opposite: misrepresenting harmless and voiceless animals to advance an idea. And it’s not about how pigs would feel, I’m certain they don’t read the NYM; but every time we portray pigs in such an insulting manner, we give legitimacy to our heinous mistreatment of pigs and to our callousness in eating their tortured flesh. And I bet that no one would disagree with me that the most greedy and corrupt animals on the planet are humans.

For many years people have accepted a sexist bias in the English language in which man is the dominant gender. Gendered nouns such as manpower, mankind, fireman and workman were taken for granted. But as our culture evolved in respect to gender equality, so did our vocabulary and grammar. It’s a work in progress and every stride in that direction helps women in asserting an equal role in the society.

Similarly most of us were raised with the bigoted worldview that nonhuman animals are lesser beings, and with a language that echoes that. Every time we talk about living beings as objects, or use clichés that express violence and negativity towards them, we’re reinforcing and perpetuating the same wrongheaded ideas and immoral behavior.

Our society evolves as veganism becomes mainstream, and more and more people are refusing to take part in animal enslavement and exploitation. We all should be part of this progress and educate ourselves and our children to be compassionate, mindful and respectful of all sentient beings. We must strive to use a positive and dignified vocabulary vis-à-vis our fellow earthlings. One that promotes the same values we share with our fellow human beings: fairness, justice and the right to live free of harm.

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