What’s in a word?

Hugletts Wood Sanctuary

Mother and baby, safe at Hugletts Wood Farm Sanctuary

In a recent post I referred to the victims of humanity’s persecution as our nonhuman kin. A comment was made along the lines that they weren’t my ‘kin’ unless I was ‘a son of a bitch’. Of course I’m under no obligation to post offensive remarks on any page, and I mention it here only because it’s not an unusual sort of comment and it sparked the thoughts that resulted in this post.

I refer to our victims as kin quite deliberately, to emphasise that we have far more in common than is acknowledged in this nonvegan world. If anyone wishes to be pedantic, the dictionary would support my terminology by defining possible meanings of kin as:

  • someone or something of the same or similar kind;
  • of the same family; related; akin; 
  • a class or group with similar characteristics.

I deem it completely appropriate to consider all who are sentient inhabitants of this planet as my kin.  Our shared sentience gives us a vast amount in common, and being a mammal and a mother ties me even closer to so many whose sobs and pleas for mercy are being ignored as I type. I have given birth; I have fed my babies at my breast. However, unlike our victims, I have only imagined the horror of having my infants wrenched from me, have only imagined the panic of witnessing their mutilation, of hearing their screams of pain and terror, have felt only in my nightmares the soul-destroying grief and emptiness of their abduction, whereas our victims have experienced the reality at the hands of my species, and continue to experience it in their millions every day.

Why words can make us uncomfortable

I don’t feel in any way demeaned to be kin with members of different species. On the contrary, I feel connected to my fellow earthlings, yet deeply ashamed at the same time. I am ashamed for the behaviour of my tragic species; a species that has lost its way and considers brutality, destruction and bloodlust – inflicted with no moral necessity on the vulnerable and defenceless – to be the norm.

I used to wonder why it is that so much discomfort is caused by vegan advocates using what I consider to be the correct terminology to describe the practices and processes that humans inflict on individuals of a different species than our own. In this world of text-speak where those who take care over grammar, spelling and the correct use of apostrophes are mocked and ridiculed, why is it so easy to provoke a pedantic response whenever we refer to sentient individuals of other species in the same terminology as we might use for humans?

Obviously my question is rhetorical. I believe we all know very well why the terminology is different, and why it causes discomfort. It’s different because from our earliest years we are encouraged to believe that what we inflict on other sentient individuals is not the same, a necessary evil, somehow more morally acceptable than it would be if we were to do it to members of our own species. The terminology we have adopted is a façade we hide behind. It helps us to maintain the mistaken childhood myths of superiority and entitlement that we were taught in the long-ago, innocent days when we all asked, ‘Why?’ This common vocabulary that we share with so many other humans lets us maintain a distance from the consequences of our behaviour and helps us continue with the elaborate pretence that our actions are right.

To use the terminology we would use for humans forces us to acknowledge the similarities between ourselves and our victims, which causes acute discomfort. Why? Because our whole society is founded upon exploitation, harm and death; all of it unnecessary and deep down many of us remain aware of this on some level. Words are so much more important than we like to recognise. Words force us to confront unpleasant truths and there is where the discomfort arises.

Our learned vocabulary

From childhood, we were provided with a new vocabulary to describe the things that we instinctively know are wrong. Thus murder became slaughter, or culling, or – amazingly – harvesting; corpses and dead flesh became meat; deceased cows and bulls became beef or steak or joints or chops or mince, their dead infants became veal; deceased pigs became pork or bacon or gammon or ham; the last earthly remains of sheep became mutton, their infants are lamb; hens, turkeys, ducks, geese became poultry. We talk of hearts and lungs, livers, kidneys and stomachs as offal.

Sexual molestation and violation became breeding and artificial insemination. Surgical mutilation became docking or debeaking, dehorning, mulesing, de-toeing or castration – all presented under a cloak of falsely benevolent concern for the helpless victims, with care to omit to mention the absence of pain relief. Slavery and child abduction, the mechanised extraction of bereft mothers’ breast milk became milking, the vile process underpinning the dairy industry. Imprisoning chickens to compel their fragile bodies to overproduce eggs in their futile attempts to be mothers became the egg industry.

The practice of confinement, forced breeding, mutilation with intent to murder became farming. Despoiling and dismembering the corpses of the deceased became butchery. Mortuaries became places to shop.

The results of torture and flaying became leather, hide, fur and fleece; what nice, cosy words to hide the blood and agony, the terror, the violence and the brutality. We dye the body parts pretty colours and attach designer labels to them. Of course we don’t wish to be reminded where they come from, we don’t wish to face the echoes of the screaming, or to think of the horrified, agonised eyes, so frequently still alive as the knives and saws begin their task.

Some find it offensive to refer to the grieving, orphaned infants of our victims as their children or babies. Yet that is what they clearly are, and again the dictionary would support such an interpretation. And why would it not? No dictionary is a fixed, intransigent thing; each year new words are approved and accepted; in 2014, words like permadeath, lolcat and tomoz were approved. With such trivia gaining acceptance, why on earth would the tear drenched children of our nonhuman victims be denied the dignity of appropriate terminology? Because it forces our minds to confront the concept of family and all it entails, in connection with those whom we thoughtlessly brutalise?

Why is it that howls of outrage meet any reference to nonhuman individuals as persons? In 2012, in the landmark Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, an eminent group decreed that sentience was not an exclusively human trait. And every year brings further legal landmarks, recognising individuals who are not human, as persons. I am in no doubt that this trend will continue no matter how we drag our feet, kicking and screaming in our desperate attempt to cling to our delusions of superiority in the animal kingdom.

The turning tide

Thankfully I do believe the tide is changing. More and more humans are rejecting the concept of treating others as commodities and resources. More and more of us are facing up to the inescapable truth that we can be healthy and live well without intentionally causing harm and each vegan is living proof of this. When we find the courage to open our eyes to the truth, we find that becoming vegan is the best decision we could make, and in fact the only one that is possible if we wish to live in alignment with the values that we all believe we hold.

With truth and sincerity on its side, veganism is continuing to gain recognition.  Find out more about veganism here http://vegankit.com/

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7 Responses to What’s in a word?

  1. cushpigsmum says:

    Reblogged this on iliketowritewhatithink and commented:
    Another good, vegan blog to put on my own site. All animals are our kin. They are persons in non human shape. Individuals with their own, unique personalities and ways of being. They should all receive our respect. We should be striving, always, to live here doing the least harm that we can. I am convinced that the majority of humans are just NOT doing this.


  2. cushpigsmum says:

    Another great blog. All the animals are my ‘kin’. We share genes with them all, and that makes us kin. We came out of the same ‘pool’. The interconnectedness of life means that whatever we do, affects some other life and some ecosystem. As moral beings we should make sure to intend only kindness and respect. We cannot possibly succeed in living a life completely free of harming others but we should, at the very least, attempt to minimise our harmful impact. We have no reason to be cruel, ever.


  3. Reblogged this on newveganblog and commented:
    Language-how we use it to pretty things up when we need to. How it can hide the truth.


  4. Thank you so much for writing this and for being vegan! I agree entirely with you on the use of language and how we use it to appease ourselves and to make things seem okay. Language really ‘pretties’ things when we want it to. I am going to write a blog about this blog. Of course, I will refer readers to you. I am very appreciative of you and your writing. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. oideschachdl says:

    Thank you very much for this excellent summary and explanation why words matter so much. I especially liked the term “our tragic species”. That’s what we are and that’s what it truly is. One big, unfathomable tragedy.


  6. Jonathan Martin says:

    Another excellent article. Thank-you again from the Vegan Curmudgeon, and from all of those who also speak to us in their own way but whom we arrogantly and ignorantly ignore. “The mortuary became a place to shop”: what a sad but accurate picture that paints…

    Liked by 1 person

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