By Leslie Goldberg

If activists are going to wake up the planet to the horror of animal exploitation, we’ve got to change how we talk. We can no longer afford to play into the hands of these industries that exploit animals.

Remember how George Bush twisted words to mean the opposite of what they actually were? The Clean Air Act only allowed more air pollution, not less. The No Child Left Behind Act didn’t help disadvantaged children, it hurt them. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act branded non-violent activism as “terrorism.”

Drawing on the work of cognitive linguist George Lakoff, one of the key speakers at the National Animal Rights Convention 2015, Alex Hershaft gave his audience a hand-out detailing, well, how to talk.

Animal rights activists must never fall into meat, dairy, egg, fish industry double-speak and/or euphemism, he said. We can not let ourselves and the people around us forget that exploited animals are living, breathing, feeling, thinking individuals who want to live just like us. Animals are not things. (And that includes fishes!)

Some of his suggestions:

— Always refer to a non-human animal as “he” or “she,” never “it.”

— Don’t call companion animals, “pets.” We are not their “owners.” We’re their “guardians.”

— Say “animals raised for food,” instead of “food animals” or “farm animals.” Say “animals in laboratories,” not “lab animals” or “specimens.”

— The words “beef,” “pork,” “veal,” and “chicken,” are used to make us forget reality. Instead of these words, say “flesh” or “tissue.”

— Other industry terms that deny animal personhood are “livestock,” “cattle,” “hogs,” “swine,” “poultry,” “layers,” “broilers,” etc. We don’t want to use those terms.

— Don’t allow the dairy industry to own the words “cheese,” “milk,” and “ice cream.” If these items come from animals, designate them: “cow’s milk,” “animal-derived cheese,” or “cow’s ice cream.”

— Don’t join government agencies which kill millions of animals and deny animal personhood and which use terms like “wildlife,” “harvesting,” “trash animals,” or “by-catch.” Instead say “free animals,” “killing,” or “non-targeted dead animals.”

— Refrain from using works like “animal,” “beast,” “pig,” “rat,” or “snake” to indicate a person who is violent, uncouth, messy, disloyal, etc.

— Figure out alternatives to expressions such as “killing two birds with one stone” and “there is more than one way to skin a cat.”

— And please don’t ever, ever suggest that there is a way to “humanely” raise and kill animals for human consumption.

– A Vicious Vegan blog post –


  1. couldn’t agree more – well said.
    I always stop with the ‘kill2 birds w one stone’ one, and really find
    it difficult to find another saying, but use it and qualify it by saying that is a horrible statement and we don’t EVER want to kill birds, but – you get the gist. Gives me time to talke about the ‘killing machine’ while not endorsing it.

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