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Lessons Learned From 4 Years of Animal Person, Part 2

Yesterday's lessons learned were primarily about blogging. Today they're about language.

Lesson #7

Obsessing over language can become counterproductive.

And this, coming from a person with a doctorate in Applied Linguistics. I can talk about language all day, every day. How it shapes our lives and our culture. How it changes because it's not static–it's alive. How precision is vital in order for us to successfully communicate. And how, for the love of God, people have got so stop saying things like Vegan Before 6! It makes no sense! (See Vegan Between Meals for more).

From the vegan equals vegetarian discussion, to the nonviolence does or doesn't include property damage, to certain abolitionists deciding that they are in fact the only real abolitionists, it has gotten comical. And embarrassing. Some of these discussions make me think: Boy, that Rick Berman, that FBI, those people who spend their lives using and killing animals for fun and profit–don't need to do much to bring this movement down because we're doing it ourselves.

I understand the need for critique and productive criticism within a movement. I understand the impulse to separate yourself from others who are doing things you don't approve of, whether they are PR stunts or tactics employed to liberate animals. And I've spent many, many posts separating myself.

But when vegans are such a tiny percentage of the population, I've come to the conclusion that for me, a woman self-described as obsessed with language, a shift needs to happen away from how other vegans are doing things wrong to getting more omnivores and vegetarians to change their behavior. If others want to keep that battle raging and make it the focus of what they do, that's fine. But I think I'm officially retiring from that line of work.

Lesson #8

Don't use language that alienates people.

This one depends on your goal and your audience. If your purpose is to rile people up, you might want to use inflammatory language. You might want to refer to omnivores as "corpse munchers." I'll assume that you're not trying to change the behavior of omnivores with that one. Similarly, "new welfarist," though a less sensational term, has the same effect. Both "corpse muncher" and "new welfarist" are the same in that they are technically correct. In terms of language, people who eat dead bodies can be called "corpse munchers." And people who say they want us to stop using animals, yet whose tactics appear to be in the service of the welfare of animals, can be called "new welfarists." I'm not saying there's anything incorrect about the verbiage. What I am saying is that it's welcoming only to people who agree with you and . . . they already agree with you.

This brings us to . . .

Lesson #9

Write what people want to read.

I had a niche once. I'd do my "Let's deconstruct" shtick (here's a sample about Oprah) and I probably should have stuck to it. I'd go through a news story (print or TV) and unpack the language and the meaning and the contradictions and the inaccuracies. I was good at that. But, probably because I was blogging daily and there wasn't great fodder daily, I expanded into other areas. I wrote about atheism, diabetes (which I do think is important and stay tuned for a video about canine diabetes and how to test blood sugar), dog food, feral cats, and of course, greyhound racing. I was all over the place. All of those topics were important to me, but if I cared and paid attention to my traffic and wanted to maximize my audience, I'd keep writing about the things my readers appeared to want to read and comment on!

Write what people want to read . . . if you are writing to maximize your audience numbers and participation.

Lesson #10

Use your name.

Anyone who comments as "anonymous" or doesn't leave a valid e-mail address or identify themselves is suspect to me. In fact, I don't ordinarily accept comments without a valid e-mail address. People will say all kinds of ridiculous things when they don't have to own them. Want to say something to the world? Think your idea is a good one? Proud of the way you conduct yourself? Then why not use your name?

I think that a handful of years ago it was fun to use a different moniker (Animal Person, anyone?), particularly in the name of a blog, as that's part of branding. However, I have to say that I don't take people seriously when they don't at some point in their blog (or in their e-mail address or in a note to me) say who they really are. When it comes to activists who are engaged in other-than-above-ground activities, I do understand it. But I'm not referring to them. I'm referring to people who want to bully or attack and not have to deal with the consequences.

Stay tuned for more lessons from four years of blogging at Animal Person . . .

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mary, I have been following your writing for some time now, in fact your efforts are partially responsible for my taking the leap to begin blogging on behalf of the animals.

    I get the uneasy feeling (due partially to your statements at the beginning of "Lessons Learned From 4 Years of Animal Person") that you are going to stop writing. Jeez, this is tough because while I support your doing whatever you want/need to do, I would miss your writing terribly (as would others, I am sure).

    Eloquence in the service of making a better world is not a common thing. If at all possible, please continue writing.

    Glenn L.

    May 24, 2010
  2. Olivia #

    I feel the same as Glenn, although I didn't know of your blog until a year ago or less. Perhaps you are preparing to transition to motherhood and realize you can't do it all?

    If you do continue to write, I hope it will be about deconstructing language, because it is educational (even for vegans) and doesn't put down anybody in a personal way.

    But if you stop or become a less frequent blogger, I hope you'll leave your archives up, so people can read your deconstructing language comments far into the future.

    And please do continue to contribute when you can to the discussion and the posts on challengeoppression, ok?

    I learned a lot from the things YOU have learned in the back-to-back "lessons" posts. Thanks for them.

    May 24, 2010
  3. Mike Grieco #

    Hi Mary,

    I echo Glenn and Olivia.

    Thanks for being here! 🙂

    June 1, 2010

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