Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bodies & carcasses

The Indonesian volcano erupts, causing numerous casualties. There are references to the bodies of people killed in the havoc, as well as animal carcasses being found all down the mountainside. Humans have "bodies," while evidently non-human animals have "carcasses."

Similarly, the phone book lists businesses available to pick up animal "carcasses" from roads. (We won't go into why such animals are also referred to as "road kill," though we know humans would not be described that way.)

The synonyms for “body” in the corpse sense include “carcass” and “cadaver,” the latter meaning “a corpse used for dissection.” “Body” itself refers to “material substance, living or dead, especially of a person,” while “corpse” means the physical remains of a dead person.”

“Carcass” primarily denotes the body of a dead animal, especially one slaughtered and dressed for food; the dressed body of a meat animal. Obviously, this is not about human remains. The word “carcass” is applied to a person, alive or dead, only derogatorily or humorously, as in “He exercised to keep his carcass fit.”

How interesting – and puzzling – this differentiation between people’s and animals’ corpses. Why? Without more extensive research, maybe it’s a way to refer to animals’ bodies with a less emotion-laden word – “carcass”? In once again making (non-human) animals the “other” (as well as the lesser!) by using different words for them, does that make it easier to accept a dead animal “dressed for food”?

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