Words have power & when we speak them, we give them life

There are some adorable phrases we often use in conversation that include or infer to our animal friends. For instance, have you ever said “A little birdie told me,” or “She’s busy as a bee,” or “It’s the cat’s meow?”

We include animals in our language all the time without really considering what some of the phrases really mean. They’re called idioms, which are forms of figurative language expressions whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words. To give you an example, when we say, “Let’s paint the town red,” we’re actually saying: Let’s have a good time in town tonight — we’re not really getting out our paintbrushes and water buckets and texting Benjamin Moore to meet us at the bar. All slang is idiomatic. All words have power and when we speak them, we give them life.

Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.
— Patrick Rothfull, "The Name of the Wind"

If you were not looking for it (or listening for it) you’d never think twice about how some of our language reveals shocking disregard for animals. We do this unintentionally and unconsciously, as I know I did before becoming vegan. As I said and heard these phrases, I started to realize the malice behind the words I was saying. It was eye-opening, for sure.

Along with divesting ourselves of cruelty, ill health and environmental deconstruction, vegans have begun to realize how some phrases in our language spotlight the insolence toward animals. To hear them spoken out loud now is disturbing, and I make every effort to use my words more compassionately, so they will match my intentions.

Here are a few idioms about animals you might recognize:

#1 “A fish out of water”

To be uncomfortable in
a particular situation

(Fish suffocate, gasping for their life-sustaining
environment in the water)

#2 “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”

There are different ways of
achieving the same thing

(Skinning a cat)

#3 “Killing two birds with one stone”

Solving two problems with a single action

(Killing birds)

#4 “Running around like a chicken
with its head cut off“

Being too busy

(Cutting off the head of a chicken)

#5 “Who let the cat out of the bag?”

Revealing a secret

(A living cat stuffed in a bag)

#6 “Can’t beat a dead horse”

Shouldn’t continue to argue a point
that has been settled

(Beating a dead horse)

#7 “Not enough room to swing a cat”

Used to describe a place that is very small

(Swinging a cat by its tail)

#8 “I have bigger fish to fry”

Having more important things to do

(Killing and frying a fish)

#9 “The straw that broke
the camel’s back”

Reaching the final limit of capacity

(Breaking a camel’s back)

#10 “Like lambs to the slaughter”

Keeping quiet about the dangers
that may lie ahead

(Sending lambs to their slaughter)

These are just 10 of the many idioms that expose the suffering of animals as simple words in a phrase. Our language is indicative of a much bigger issue — the issue of how we perceive animals in relation to our world. Are they here for us to do with whatever we choose — because we can? Are they ours to abuse, confine, to wear, to eat, to amuse and entertain us, or to experiment on? Or are they here with us, each with his or her distinct purpose, way of life and desire for freedom? Can we choose to become their guardians? Can we be worthy of their trust? These sayings are just another layer to peel off our lifelong indoctrination, so we can return to our childlike wonder of animals. And as we do this, we, too, become free.

Humans do not like to look at the myriad ways we are unkind to our fellow earthlings, the animals. It is an aspect of our culture and conditioning that is unpleasant and difficult to reconcile. It is something that needs to change. Humans do not like change. I suppose it is just, “The nature of the beast.”