Carl Safina Writes About Pronoun Usage When Referring To Animals — More on “Anthropomorphizing”

beyondwords-paperback-e1466014381216One step at a time, we’re getting the word out that social animals share many characteristics with humans. Outdated biases are often thoughtlessly — or purposefully — perpetuated in language, in this case, by using simple pronouns or designators which prevent folks from seeing social animals for who they really are. I sometimes wonder if referring to an animal as an inanimate “it” or reproductive entity such as “cow”, helps excuse and justify society’s treatment of them by keeping them at arms length: they are brutally hunted, brutally experimented upon, and brutally raised in preparation for the slaughterhouse.

In the article: “Wild In The Streets: Pronouns On The Loose”,  Huffington Post, June 17th of this year, Carl Safina, author of the wonderfully warm and biologically supported exposition, “Beyond Words” and author and host of “Saving the Ocean” on PBS, writes about our society’s use of impersonal pronouns when referring to animals, and how this detracts and diminishes them as sentient social beings. I, of course, totally agree with him. I’ve deliberately used “who”, “him”, “her”, “mom”, “dad”, to help folks better understand  and relate to coyotes, specifically in my 2013 informational video presentations, “Coyotes As Neighbors” and “How To Shoo Off A Coyote”. I also wrote an article on the fallacies of the anthropomorphizing concept which simply diminishes animals and prevents us humans from getting to know them, rather than helping us understand them for who they really are: unique individuals with amazingly different personalities from each other.

Here is what Carl says:

When a cow recently broke loose from a New York City slaughterhouse onto the streets of New York, The New York Times ran the headline, “Cow Who Escaped New York Slaughterhouse.” Using “who” for a non-human is heifer heresy, and The Times struggled with inner conflict. While the headline ran with “Who,” the first line of the story reported on the “cow that…” The New York Post reversed the Times inconsistency, running the headline, “Cow That Ran…” while their photo caption referred to, “The cow who escaped…”

For The New York Times it was a bit of a watershed, straddling a furry area in pronoun policy and prompting an explanatory editorial. “Our goal,” wrote editor Philip B. Corbett, “is to reflect familiar usage among our readers. In the case of the cow in Queens, it seems our editors were caught between two impulses.” At The Times they are a-changin’.

But not, apparently, at The New Yorker. There, Inky the octopus’s jailbreak from New Zealand’s National Aquarium in April prompted a profile with a photo and text. The caption under Inky’s headshot read awkwardly, “Inky the octopus, which recently escaped.” But The New Yorker too was at odds with its own caption; the body of the piece included, “Inky hauled his basketball-sized body out of the tank.” “His” body; not “its.”

What’s going on? Lines are blurring as we understand more about who animals are. As I wrote in my recent book Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel, “I allowed myself to ask them the question that is forbidden fruit: Who are you?”
To read on, please press this link:

For a wonderful introduction and review of Carl’s book, Beyond Words, which will be republished in paperback on July 12th, see the following short YouTube video and read this review.

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