Animal Rights/Vegan Activists' Strategies Articles

Animal Well-Being: Simple, User-Friendly Vocabulary

From Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today / Animal Emotions
January 2023

Some words also are used to psychologically distance ourselves from other animals and help to reduce the cognitive dissonance some people feel when their words and actions don't align with their feelings.... A cheat sheet of words we should use when referring to nonhuman animals.

Black Bear
A black bear who regularly visited my mountain home for 3 years, often with her cubs.

Many words used to refer to nonhuman animals influence perception and attitudes.


  • Words used to refer to animals influence how we view them and our attitudes toward them, and often help to reduce cognitive dissonance.
  • Animals should be referred to as "who" or "whom" rather than "it," "that," or "which."
  • When people use a misnomer, gently correct them and explain why; this can lead to fruitful discussions about animal–human relationships.

Last week, a well-known writer (Paul) sent me the following email:

Dear Dr. Bekoff: I read your essays about our attitudes toward animals and while I do not always agree with your views, I decided that my New Year's resolution would be from now on to refer to animals as if they are humans, using the proper pronouns and other words to make it clear that I have changed my ways and attitudes. Might you have the time to pen a lexicon of words that you think are appropriate?

Paul's email came at the right time because I had been thinking about how the words we use to refer to nonhuman animals (animals) influence how we view them, our attitudes toward them, and how we treat them, and also can feed into speciesist proclivities such as some animals don't suffer as much as others or aren't as intelligent.

There aren't degrees of sentience, and intelligence doesn't really factor into suffering.


Please read the ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE.


Red Fox
A red fox who often hung out around my home.

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