So often we realise, and sometimes we don’t realise, that the words we use normalise animal exploitation and degradation. A man might be angrily referred to as a ‘pig’ because he behaves in an obnoxious or sexist manner; a person might be called an ‘animal’ if they are aggressive or bad mannered; some animals are described by the way they taste instead of by characteristics which actually tell us something about them as individuals; people are desensitised to the harsh realities which face captive animals every day because words, like ‘abattoir’ for example, are defined simply as slaughterhouse which doesn’t begin to convey the horror and becomes an accepted and unquestioned fact that doesn’t make people recoil or revolt.
The other side of this coin is that some words are only described in relation to animal farming when in fact there is so much more to them (see alfalfa).
So we thought it would be a good idea to make a vegan dictionary, with words defined from a vegan point of view, and we’ll keep it high up in the sidebar for easy reference. It will take a long time to complete – so far I have just done A! – but it is a very interesting endeavour and I am enjoying it.
I began by referring to my big old Oxford dictionary. I went through the A section, page by page, and every time I came across a word which normalised animal exploitation or degradation, or which was defined in a way which did, I copied it down and defined it honestly and fully to the best of my ability. I also include the Oxford definition in my dictionary for comparison.
You can find the dictionary by clicking on the picture at the top of this post, or on the picture of the dictionary in the sidebar and that will take you to links to the lettered pages – so far, as I said, just A, but I’ll get started on B today!
I believe that most people, whether they be veg*n or not, have compassion for animals and the reason that many of those who feel love for other species still eat some of them is because they have been conditioned from birth not to question it. It is deeply embedded in the language they speak.
When I was 13 I told my dad that I wanted to be vegetarian and he asked me why. I told him that it was because I didn’t want animals to be killed. He explained to me earnestly that it was all done humanely; that they don’t suffer. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know anything about animal farming or slaughter, but he believed it to be true. He had been told that there were regulations in place to make sure the animals didn’t suffer and he believed it. And he told me that it was true. And that’s what most people think: it is normal, it is natural and it is humane.
But it isn’t any of those things so we need a new normal, and it starts with the language.