Language

 

"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 that refer to non-human animals, for you may be using expressions that maintain prejudices against them."

- Noreen Mola and The Blacker Family

 

How to Counter Speciesism with your Language

Avoiding Objectification

  • Never use "it" to refer to a nonhuman animal. Instead, use "he," "she," or "they." Animals are not inanimate objects, like "it" implies. They have genders, and even if we don't know a particular animal well enough to know their gender, that does not excuse pronouns that objectify them.

ex: I saw a cat in the front yard, but it they ran away before I could see if it they had a collar.

  • Use "someone," "everybody," etc, instead of "something," "everything," etc, to refer to nonhuman animals.

ex: Something Someone is making a noise outside.

  • Because nonhumans are not objects, humans cannot own them. The animals who live with us are part of the family, not pieces of furniture. Use "guardian," "parent," "roommate," or "caretaker" to refer to yourself in relation to nonhumans who share your home.

ex: The rabbit's owner guardian took her to the vet.

"The problem is that humans have victimized animals to such a degree that they are not even considered victims. They are not even considered at all. They are nothing; they don't count; they don't matter. They are commodities like TV sets and cell phones. We have actually turned animals into inanimate objects-- sandwiches and shoes."

-Gary Yourofsky

 

Emphasizing Individuality

  • Avoid referring to multiple nonhuman animals with singular word forms. This perpetuates a view of them as one collective thing. Add -s or -es to the end of words when appropriate- "fishes" instead of "fish," "sheeps" instead of "sheep," "mooses" instead of "moose." Similarly, use "chickens" instead of "poultry" and "cows" instead of "cattle."

ex: Salmon Salmons are anadromous, meaning they are born in freshwater, travel to saltwater to live most of their lives, and return to freshwater to lay eggs.

  • Nonhumans deserve an identity besides the situation that they have been put into by humans. Say "farmed animal" instead of "farm animal," "animal companion" instead of "companion animal," and avoid saying "lab animal," "food animal," "zoo animal," or "circus animal."

ex: At the next protest, activists will be speaking out against the abuse of farm farmed animals.

  • Do not refer to nonhumans as "voiceless." Animals speak, humans just prefer not to listen. Just because we do not understand their language does not mean that we have the authority to erase it.

ex: I am so inspired by the way you are a voice for the voiceless amplify the voices of the silenced. 

"There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard."

-Arundhati Roy

 

Boycotting Industry Terms

  • Animal exploiters use euphemisms in an attempt to disguise reality. To identify places that hurt animals, say "slaughterhouse," "aquaprison," "hunting area," or "enslavement facility" instead of "abattoir," "aquarium," "game refuge," and "farm," respectively.

ex: Baboons were confined in the biomedical research lab vivisection lab.

  • Evidence shows that nonhumans suffer just like we do, so our language should reflect that. Abusers like to say "discomfort" instead of "pain," or "dispatch" instead of "murder."

ex: The men artificially inseminated raped the cow so that she would become pregnant.

 

Dismantling the Us/Them Binary

  • Say "person/people" in reference to all sentient beings- not just humans.

ex: Six people live in our house- three humans, two cats, and one fish.

"The more you look at animal eyes, the more you begin to perceive them not as animal eyes but as the eyes of other people. So we call animals 'people.'"

-Oren Lyons

  • When using labels for other beings that could apply to humans as well (animal, primate, mammal), place the word "nonhuman" in front of it. This serves as a reminder that humans are not above the animal kingdom, but a part of it.

ex: Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a movie about nonhuman primates taking over the world.

 

Refusing Pejorative Figures of Speech

  • Many idioms make light of animal abuse. Phrases such as "kill two birds with one stone," "there's more than one way to skin a cat," "beating a dead horse," "running around like a chicken with its head cut off," and "I've got bigger fish to fry" normalize violence against nonhuman animals. There is no shortage of ways to get the same message across without alluding to harming someone.

ex: By dropping off the books on her way to the bank, Susan killed two birds with one stone fed two birds with one scone. 

  • Humans often use the names of nonhuman people as insults for other humans. "Pig," "sheep," "chicken," "dog," "rat," "snake," and "whale" are all used in derogatory ways. However, the traits associated with these words are usually human ones, displaced onto innocent nonhumans. For example, chickens are not cowardly like speciesists would like use to think; they are known to be stoic protectors of their flocks.

ex: That politician is a pig repulsive.

"When humans act with cruelty we characterize them as 'animals,' yet the only animal that displays cruelty is humanity."

-A.D. Williams

 

Humanness is Not the Basis for Rights

  • When we have been mistreated in some way, we often say that there has been a human rights violation. But when one believes that humans are not the only ones deserving of basic rights, the term human rights becomes empty. There is no such thing as a right that is only a human one, based on humanness. Therefore, we should remove the phrase from our vocabulary and replace it with "sentient rights."

ex: Water is a human right sentient right.

  • Describing an experience as "dehumanizing" is commonplace when one has been abused. But this is problematic for two reasons: 1) It is a recognition that animals are treated worse than humans, without actually challenging that system, and 2) It is a reinforcement of the idea that humans deserve better treatment than nonhumans. To remind others than personhood, not humanness, is the basis for rights, use "depersonifying" instead of "dehumanizing."

ex: Spending the night in jail was a dehumanizing depersonifying experience.

"This is why I use the language of de-personifying marginalized communities instead of de-humanizing them. Human is not a useful rubric by which to confer personhood. Animals have language, culture, society, and complex emotional relationships. And not recognizing them as a marginalized community of persons is itself an erasure."

-Christopher Sebastian

 

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