A lot of people seem to have gotten their knickers in a twist after PETA tweeted our list of animal-friendly phrases to use in place of archaic idioms that decidedly aren’t animal-friendly. (For example, instead of “killing two birds with one stone,” we suggest that you try “feeding two birds with one scone.”)
Although PETA has long argued for an end to speciesist language — we’ve been “bringing home the bagels” (not the bacon) since 1980 — this issue is in the news now because Shareena Z. Hamzah, a postdoctoral researcher at Swansea University, wrote a blog for The Conversation suggesting that the growing number of vegans will lead to the disappearance of some meaty expressions (e.g., “bringing home the bacon”) from common usage.
If you think this is all much ado about nothing, remember that words matter, and our language can have profound repercussions.
As our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Our society has worked hard to eliminate racist, homophobic and ableist language and the prejudices that usually accompany it. But we must also address the pervasive speciesism.
Not only is hurling insults such as “pig,” “whale,” “snake” or “dog” hurtful to humans, it also denigrates and belittles nonhuman animals, who are interesting and capable beings. People who have spent time around pigs know that they are smart and loyal, lead complex social lives and show empathy for other pigs in distress. Whales communicate in their own dialects and transmit their own culture from generation to generation. Snakes have rich family lives and prefer to associate with relatives rather than with strangers. Dogs have personalities as varied and distinct as those of the humans who adore them.
Speciesism is dangerous. Just as racism and sexism allow harmful practices toward humans in our society to continue, speciesism is what keeps the industries that abuse and kill animals in place. Using clichés and phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals, such as “more than one way to skin a cat,” or making animals the target of our derogatory language desensitizes us and paves the way for the normalization of violence against animals. Most of us would never support dogfighting, but we use the phrase, “I have a dog in that fight.” And hopefully, we would never “beat a dead horse,” but our language suggests otherwise.
Animals are feeling, intelligent individuals capable of joy and suffering. They do not exist just so that humans can exploit or kill them for hot dogs, wool sweaters or amusement park attractions. Our language must evolve to reflect this.
And there’s another reason why it’s time for a language revolution. Because we’re all in this together. Prejudices of any stripe arise when we start to believe that “I” am important and “you” are not, that my interests somehow outweigh those of other living beings. We aren’t going to win the war against racism or homophobia if we’re still clinging to old prejudices about members of other groups who are somehow “different” from us — animals included.
This is hardly a novel idea. Leaders of social justice movements have historically recognized that the liberation of one oppressed group is linked to the liberation of other groups. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King’s widow, the late Coretta Scott King, and their son, Dexter Scott King, both went vegan.
Civil rights leader César Chávez — a vegetarian — said, “Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves.”
An easy way to start is by minding our language.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.