What our use of animal-based slurs and endearments says about us

By | May 13, 2021

David Egan writes:

Human hatreds take on a depressing variety of forms: in addition to individual hatreds, the world roils with xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and on and on and on. Less remarked upon is an underlying zoophobia – a fear of, or antipathy towards, animals – that’s manifest in many of the slurs and insults directed at other human beings. Calling a person an animal is usually a comment on their unrestrained appetites, especially for food (‘like a hungry animal’), for sex (‘they went at it like animals’), and for violence (‘they’re like wild animals’). We also have purpose-made insults comparing people to specific kinds of animal: pig, chicken, rat, cow, slug, snake, cockroach, bitch, etc.

But aren’t humans notorious animal lovers? How do these insults square with the sentimental affection people profess for pet cats and wild tigers alike? The fondness for beloved pigs like Wilbur and Babe and the insult of calling someone a ‘swine’ have more in common than first appearances suggest. Both the sentimentality and the insult rest on distortions that reinforce notions of human supremacy. The parallels between assertions of human dominance over other animals and over other humans are striking, and worth a closer look. [Continue reading…]

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