Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

etymology

 

Animals are such an integral part of our lives that almost everyone loves animal jokes. They make us bark, bellow, bray, cackle, howl, screech, snort, squawk, squeal, twitter, yip, roar and hee-haw with laughter.

Duck jokes quack us up. Porcupine jokes are sharp and to the point. Elephant jokes are worth the weight. Skunk jokes are real stinkers, but they become best-smellers. Lion jokes are rip-roaring funny. Mountain goat jokes rock, Snake jokes don’t have a leg to stand on, but they’re disarming. Oyster jokes contain pearls of wisdom, Parrot jokes are wordy, but they’re the real macaw. Dinosaur jokes are old, and antelope jokes are gnu.

Sponge jokes are absorbing. Zebra jokes are black and white and read all over. Woodpeckers tell great knock-knock jokes. Cheetah jokes never prosper, but kangaroo jokes are the best by leaps and bounds. Giraffe jokes tell tall tales. They may be over our heads, but we look up to them. Chihuahua jokes are short, and Dachshund jokes are long. Retriever jokes are fetching, and Dalmatian jokes hit the spot. Boxer jokes have great punch lines.

When animals get together this time of year, they shout: “Yappy Howl-a-Days. We Fish Ewe a Furry Meowy Christmas Panda Hippo Gnu Deer!”

PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — has launched a campaign to eradicate specieism — anti-animal phrases that degrade organisms that share our planet. “Words matter,” the organization contends, “and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Here’s how to remove specieism from your daily conversations”:

  • Instead of “Kill two birds with one stone,” say, “Feed two birds with one scone.”
  • Instead of “Be the guinea pig,” say, “Be the test tube.”
  • Instead of “Beat a dead horse,” say, “Feed a fed horse.”
  • Instead of “Bring home the bacon,” say, “Bring home the bagels.”
  • Instead of “Take the bull by the horns,” say, “Take the flower by the thorns.”

Language is a window through which we look at the world. A growing number of people have begun to wonder if our window on reality has a glass that distorts the view. If language reflects culture and in turn influences culture, could it be that the window through which we see life is marked by cracks, smudges, blind spots and filters? In short, is language prejudiced?

Take dogs. It’s sad how dogs, those most loyal and companionable of creatures, are treated so shabbily in our English language. It’s easy to think of common words and expressions that are negative about dogs — “hangdog,” “underdog,” dog tired,” “a dog’s life,” “you dirty dog,” “sick as a dog,” “in the doghouse,” “you’re dogging it,” “going to the dogs,” “you’re dog meat” — on and on it goes. But why don’t we say “cute as a dog,” “amiable as a dog,” “loyal as a dog,” “loving as a dog”? How many positive canine words and phrases leap to mind? Not many.

Do you believe that the vocabulary we use for dogs affects the way we treat them? Do you believe that the expressions that PETA spotlights trivialize cruelty to other animals?

Mark Goldstein is the former CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA and the author of the soon-to-be-published Lions and Tigers and Hamsters. Dr. Goldstein demonstrates how the language of animal welfare can sully the image of such organizations. He suggests that we say “animal services,” not “animal control”; “shelter” or “campus,” not “pound”; “affordable,” not “low-cost,” spay and neuter (would you take a low-cost parachute lesson?); “adopt,” not “purchase” or “rescue”; “euthanize,” not “kill.”

I agree with Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way in which its animals are treated.” I support the efforts of groups like PETA to enhance the lives of our animal companions.

I ask you, valued reader: Do the revised expressions that PETA proposes strike you as revisionism on steroids and make you wonder if PETA has opened a can of worms and has bigger fish to fry? Or do you find them to be thoughtful modifications that will improve the lives of those glorious organisms that scamper and scramble, hop and jump, soar and swoop, creep and crawl, swim and dive, run and gallop and dig and burrow through the English language and our planet? You be the judge.

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This coming Friday, December 21, starting at 10 am, I’ll be speaking about my new book, The Joy of Names, at the Santee County Library, 9225 Carlton Hills Blvd, Suite 17. The event is free and worth every penny. I’d love to meet you there.