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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

A More Peaceful Language

Raise your hand if you’ve ever used any of the following expressions.

He chickened out.
People are such pigs.
I want to get my ducks in a row.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

We all have. I’m way more conscious than I used to be of the violence implicit in our everyday language, but I still slip up sometimes. The opening night of Main Street Vegan Academy, Tali and I were talking about how delicious the DF Mavens non-dairy ice cream is, and I wondered if it would be all right if I had a second helping. “Or would that make me a piggy?” I caught myself as soon as I said it, and felt especially mortified to have said such a thing in a room full of vegans!

I suppose this seems like a non-issue to a person who still eats pigs, but for me—someone who has read of how intelligent and affectionate pigs are, and that they roll in the mud to keep cool because they don’t have sweat glands—this was definitely an unconscious thing to say.

 

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“Killing two birds with one stone” is a deeply unpleasant expression, once you actually take a moment to think about it. (Southern masked weavers, lovely lovely songbirds, on Lake Mburo in Uganda.)

 

I want my language to reflect my values. I want to avoid saying or thinking words like “hate” and “kill” and “shoot,” and the unpleasant expressions mentioned above, as best I can.

If you’re interested in thinking more deeply about our language choices and how they reflect our attitudes about animals and food, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau did a podcast back in 2006 called The Language of Meat. She even gets into the etymologies of meat-related words we take for granted. (A more recent episode on the subject is Verbal Vivisection: How Euphemisms, Oxymorons, and Doublespeak Disguise Our Violence Against Animals.)

I’ve been wanting to call a lot of things “bullshit” lately. It’s a word that’s been trickier to let go of, since in my in-person and online conversations about veganism I’m placing so much emphasis on seeing and telling the truth. “Baloney” is a word that makes me laugh, so it doesn’t feel like an appropriate substitute. On the other hand, when I remember what is IN a slice of lunchmeat—hormones, antibiotics, lethal bacteria—the word “baloney” (all right—”bologna”) fills me with indignation. Which is exactly how I feel when I want to use the word “bullshit.”

This isn’t as “nit-picky” a topic as it might at first seem. Becoming more compassionate and aware human beings entails modifying our behavior on every level—and that often means changing what comes out of our mouths, not just what goes in.

4 Comments to A More Peaceful Language

  1. amy lou's Gravatar amy lou
    October 2, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    The site looks amazing. I am always thinking of the craziness behind sayings, nursery rhymes & childrens stories! Very gruesome. Ring around the Rosy YIKES

  2. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    October 2, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Who skins cats anyway?! Gruesome!

  3. Tegan's Gravatar Tegan
    October 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Was nit-picking also supposed to be included in your elimination? Or are we just thinking about creatures that aren’t pests?

    Also, I always thought the ducks in a row one referred to how when Mama and baby ducks swim, they swim in a line! That doesn’t seem hurtful.

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.