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  • Jul
  • 15

PC for ‘Pets’

Posted by at 8:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

eoyOops! Excuse me—companion animals. Words can be weapons. The words we choose and how we use them underline or undermine our arguments for the rights of animals.

Never say “it” when referring to an animal. Always use “his” or “her,” even if you aren’t sure of gender. After all, you can’t always lift up the tail. Besides, “it” is so demeaning—to both genders.

Those of you who are most likely to read this blog will already regard animals as the persons they are, so let’s always refer to them as “persons.” That may take some getting used to, and it does stretch the casual definition, but we are trying to challenge speciesist notions, right?

Currently, there is no worldwide agreed-upon definition of a “person” among etymologists, the specialists who study the history of words and their meanings (even if most people don’t seem to pay any heed). The closest that etymologists have come to agreeing on the required condition for being a “person” is simply that a person must be a “being.”

If any fusty old-school grammarians (and they don’t come much older school—or older—than me) argue that only humans can be “persons,” remind them that the arbiters of both concept and word have yet to render a final judgment. In fact, the debate about which qualities determine whether “somebody” is a person has been going on for at least a couple of millennia. But right off the bat, we’ve scored a point: After all, all beings have some “body.”

If enough of us use words such as “person,” “her,” “him,” and “somebody” when referring to animals, that usage will migrate into popular language and slowly reorient thinking.

People who hold fast to received opinions without examining their inherited moral stance (read: “traditional values,” the customary excuse for segregation and subjugation) sometimes accuse animal advocates of engaging in anthropomorphism—that is, attributing human qualities, traits, and behavior to nonhuman animals. Use no word less dismissive than “Nonsense!” to respond to that specious argument.

As more humans accept their kinship with nonhuman animals, they will recognize that societies, businesses, and governments throughout the world have cynical and self-serving reasons for denying and forestalling the recognition of animal rights. As long as animals are regarded as “property” (as women and children once were and still are in some lands) and nonhuman animals are not recognized morally and legally as “persons,” they will remain tools—for food, clothing, transportation, medical and military experimentation, entertainment, etc.

This is still a world of slavery. Enslavement is an ancient practice and has never been restricted to a single species. This evil must be confronted and rejected in all its manifestations. Not only does “it” need to be replaced by “her” or “his”—”they” also needs to be replaced by “us.”

Posted by long-time PETA member and show business historian and author Frank Cullen.


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  • Matthew V Brown says:

    I have two dachshunds that I definitely consider “persons”. Fritz and Heinz have “personalities” and are my constant companions. I am a seminary (a school for people who are destined for work in the ministry) graduate, and believe that there will be animals in heaven. I can’t quote chapter and verse, but what would heaven be without such a beautiful part of God’s creation?

  • Renata says:

    Being a linguist, I couldn’t agree more. It’s he/she, him/her, but it’s also who/whom for example (which Microsoft spellchecker insists in finding it wrong).
    In Italian (I am Italian) there is no it fortunately, however it’s appalling that the many parts of the body are either completely different words (like for face and when the word for the animal part is used for humans is always offensive), or at least they have different genres depending if the part (like ear, knee …) belongs to a human or a non-human (or a thing!). Words are very powerful weapons. ALWAYS! Let us use them correctly and also: let us avoid animal names to despise a human (like pig or cow, or sheep or snake … they are endless). We have become aware of words used negatively among humans and we avoid them with that meaning, now let us work on animals. It’s high time.

  • David Salisbury says:

    We should use “they” rather than him or her if you’re unsure. It gets people used to avoiding the mis-gendering of other humans, which is also important. Also, some people gender animals based on how they look, which is problematic. For example, I see people always call fluffy cats “she” and muscled grumpy-looking dogs “he.” What does that say about how we view sex and gender? Let’s just call them “they”.

  • Lynn says:

    I get you, Lyn, and I agree with what you’re trying to say: humans, who have a monopoly in being referred to as ‘persons’, can really suck. I personally believe that all non-human animals are better than myself in every meaningful way. I believe that their goodness is so profound that it is nothing less than a precious privilege that I have opportunities to know them, to care for them, to even look upon them. But the author of this piece is offering enlightenment that is of paramount importance to stop the suffering of animals. Spoken language is entirely telling of how a society views important issues such as the subjugation of races, of women, of children, of animals. The influence of referring to non-human animals as persons, as him, as her – cannot be underestimated and history fully supports this fact. Many books have been written explaining and underlining this influence.

    To refer to animals as persons is nothing less than accurate. This is something we can all do, at every opportunity, to help our non-human animal friends. It costs nothing, it is not a small thing and it is the right thing to do.

  • Lyn says:

    I would never demean my wonderful, amazing dog by calling him a person!

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