Giving Animals Names Changes Everything
In 2016, a cow escaped from a slaughterhouse in Queens, raising journalistic concerns beyond which “mad cow” pun to run with. Some of the news headlines referred to the bovine fugitive as “the cow WHO escaped,” while others said “the cow THAT escaped,” with some stories even switching between the two phrases. It was madness.
If you’re not a word nerd, you might not understand the big deal, but newspapers actually began noting in their style guides when an animal should be referred to as a “who” or a “that” — right alongside the important stuff, like several-page theses on em dashes and Oxford commas. The New York Times style manual suggested using “who” to refer to an animal only when it’s “named or personified,” but that helped precisely nobody. The cow didn’t have a name when it escaped, because it’s a lot easier to kill “that brown spotty one” than “Bessy Katsopolis,” but it earned a name when an animal sanctuary later adopted it.
Until Freddie earned that name, he was no different from a rock or a pencil, as far as The Times was concerned. Then his Freddification occurred, and every copy editor in the Manhattan area had an emotional breakdown.
Dogs and chimps are more often “who”s, because they’re our special babies and uncomfortable close cousins, respectively. Meanwhile, livestock animals tend to be “that”s, because thinking about the rich inner life of your dinner is no fun. In a way, every time you open your mouth to talk about an animal, you’re making a judgment about its “humanity.” Animal rights activists have begun arguing for a shift toward the universal usage of “who,” in an attempt to remind us that even the less YouTube-able animals are still living beings.
Or we could start eating chimps. You know, even the playing field.
Mike Bedard has an English degree from UCLA, and he put it to good use for this article, baby! Follow him on Twitter so he feels even better about himself. Dan Hopper is an editor for Cracked, previously for CollegeHumor and BestWeekEver.tv. He fires off consistent A-minus tweets at @DanHopp.
Some sort of huge word nerd wrote a book on language, and you can read it!
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