Sunday, October 4, 2009

Influential words

“Liberate your language!” advises the new PETA guide (see "news" post for September 5). “An animal is “he” or “she” – not “it.”

How often have we heard (or said!), “Where did you get it?” (of a dog or cat or ferret or turtle). “It was just a kitten,” or “The puppy ran to its mother.”

De-personalizing, isn’t it? Still worse may be using “it” to reference animals, such as pit bulls, who already have enough problems. Daubed with the brush of “vicious” to start with – when in reality, it’s their people who are vicious and try to make them the same – these dogs don’t need to be referred to as “it,” as if they were non-breathing, “vicious” automatons.

Instead, alluding to an animal by gender, just as we allude to people as “he” or “she” -- and giving an animal a real name, instead of “cow” or “pig” -- may prompt us to look on non-human animals more compassionately, as sentient beings with feelings, needs and rights. (If “Molly,” who happens to be a pit bull, is accused of attacking an innocent person, maybe we’d be more likely to check the story and consider both sides than we’d be if “that [expletive deleted] pit bull attacked so-and-so.” )

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