Animal Rights and Language

Since at least the 1980s, anti-fur campaigns have been in full force.  Animal rights groups have sensitized the western world to the cruelty of trapping and killing wildlife.  Today there is outrage in the media over trophy hunting in Africa, for example; those who brag on Facebook – posing in a photo with a dead lion or giraffe and a gun — actually risk their own lives due to the fierce opposition of so many people.  PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has targeted designers and celebrities like Donatella Versace and Kim Kardashian for wearing and promoting fur clothing.  Even faux or synthetic fur is frowned upon for two reasons:  it sustains the fashion ideal of animal hides, and it is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource which is not consistent with the sustainable use of our environment.

The battle continues and has moved to the world of language.  Many proverbs, metaphors, and common sayings in everyday use are based on violence or abuse of animals.  For example, to wish someone good luck in Italy, one says “in bocca al lupo” (“in the mouth of the wolf”).  The traditional response is “crepi il lupo” (“may the wolf die”), but there are now those who say “viva il lupo” (“long live the wolf”) because it is no longer acceptable to hope for the death of an animal.  (There is another possible origin to the idiomatic expression “in bocca al lupo,” which refers to the mamma wolf who holds her babies in her mouth suggesting a gesture of defense and protection.)

The growth of animal rights and of veganism has called into question sayings like “To kill two birds with one stone,” or in Italian, “ho preso due piccioni con una fava” (“I took two pigeons with one fava bean”). These and other idiomatic phrases also demonstrate the different hunting methods and diets of Italians versus Americans (and British and other Northern Europeans.  In America one says, “Bring home the bacon,” which is similar to the Italian expression, “Portare a casa la pagnotta” (“Bring home the loaf”).

Linguistic researchers in England say that many metaphors based on meat or on animal cruelty are destined to disappear over time as ethical and environment issues change both common use of language and literature.  One on the chopping block is “flogging a dead horse,” which is similar to the Italian “menare il can per l’aia”(“lead the dog to the barnyard”); both suggest that someone continues to do something useless.

PETA has asked teachers to have children reflect on the thoughts implied by these expressions. PETA suggests that “bringing home the bacon” can become “bringing home the bagels” and that “putting all your eggs in one basket” can become for vegans “putting all the berries in one bowl.” Activists maintain that while these expressions may seem harmless, they reinforce the idea of a relationship with animals based on violence and abuse.  “Teaching students to use non-cruel language promotes a positive relationship among all living beings.”


This entry was posted in Abitudini, Animali, English, Foto, La Lingua, La Moda, Storia. Bookmark the permalink.

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