Angry Words

When thinking about the relationship between humans and animals, one often wonders why animal species are too often treated poorly. In a society that accepts certain horrors such as habitat destruction, abusive food industries, and animal neglect, there must be some reason as to why, in general, we find these otherwise unacceptable practices to be okay. The answer is simple enough; animals are considered secondary species to humans. Regardless of personal opinion on this matter, the origins of the idea can be examined linguistically.

Culture is often shaped by speech, and this case is no different. We’ve all heard the idioms “kill two birds with one stone” or “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” How about “there’s no sense beating a dead horse” or “you’re in the doghouse now?” Even “who let the cat out of the bag?” or “being a guinea pig.” All of these sayings have something in common; they express outright violence against animals.

Today, we recite these sayings without much thought. They hold meaning in a rhetorical sense, not meant to be taken literally. Then why is it that so many of these meanings need to be communicated through violence towards animals? At some point in history, the meanings were literal. But in today’s age of industry and technology, few can say that they’ve killed a bird with a stone or even held a bird for that matter. Why, then, do we still say it? Some suggest that it is an unconscious attempt at asserting our dominance over animal species. These sayings place humans in a position of power, and even if we do not realize it, these little things all eventually contribute to the way in which we treat animals as a whole.

So what would happen if we were to begin shifting our basic communication practices away from violence towards animals?

No one can say for sure, but sociologically speaking it could suggest that our view of the rights of animals has matured. Perhaps we would then work towards establishing a more mutually beneficial relationship with the animals around us, and in turn stop manmade extinction in threatened species like the birds at Pandemonium.

At the aviary, it would be a lie to say that no one has let slip “kill two birds with one stone.” However it is comforting that we recognize the irony of the metaphor when it’s spoken and the sudden guilt at using language that promotes violence towards the very creatures we are working to save. (In fact, we tend to glance around to make sure no birds overheard us.) This alone is convincing enough to make us more conscious of the things that we say, and the reflections upon ourselves that our speech holds.

If we are to change the way we think, then we must change the way that we speak. And if we change the way we think, then there is hope to change the way we act. After all, our goal is simple; save birds from extinction. There’s no sense in throwing stones.

by Brittany Webb, Pandemonium Aviaries Intern

Works Cited:
Smith-Harris, Tracey. "There's not enough room to swing a cat: and there's no sense flogging a dead horse: language usage and Human perceptions of other animals." ReVision 27.2 (2004): 12+. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Dec. 2010