Jess Parsons

Jess Parsons

Posted May 5, 2012

Published in Animals

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Language and animals - who hears a who?

Read More: animal identity, cows, hens, language, meat, meat industry, pigs, sheep, software, words

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I just learned something new.  In MS Word, a sentence with the phrase “a hen who slept at the foot of the bed” shows a grammar error on “who” – the grammar rules recommend “that”.  Change it to “man” and look! “Who” is OK.

I kept experimenting.  These language rules systematically strip individual identity from animals, giving them the same grammatical status as a table.

Dogs, cats, and mice are also not whos.  Neither are birds (no, not even parrots), lions, or tigers.  Strangely, a monkey is a who. But not a chimp or a gorilla.

It’s a fun game for a few idle moments – try to find an animal that MS Word deems worthy of being a who.  Sorry, Horton and Dr Seuss, but an elephant is not a who.

A person's a person, no matter how small. Is an animal a thing, no matter how tall?

Who cares?

When I write about animals, I deliberately go against my conditioning and use identity and gender language to regift these creatures with their natural birthright. 

A hen or a cow is a “she” and a bull is a "he" – how hard can that be?  If I don’t know an animal’s gender, I can at least pay the same respect I do to human creatures and use s/he or other techniques. 

See how easily we can reject this judgement that humanity is clinging to for its own convenience and profit – that animals don't matter enough to care whether they are male or female?

Who is an animal?  Who is a piece of meat?

We all know common words that objectify animals in the animal industry:

  • Nobody eats a cow, they eat beef, or steak, or (hamburger) mince.
  • Nobody eats a sheep, they eat mutton or chops.  
  • Nobody eats a pig, they eat pork or bacon.
  • Even a lamb is just called lamb, and a chicken is just chicken.  

If you think that last one is quibbling, think about what you picture when you hear “a lamb” or “a chicken,” compared to “lamb” and “chicken.”  That simple word “a” assigns identity to the animal – and it’s taken away just as simply.

And you’ll love this.  According to MS Word, a hen is not a “who.”  But a rooster is.

Who’s writing this stuff?  (And yes, I checked: a software programmer is a who.)