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On a Replacement for “Bullshit”

Here's an e-mail from a linguistics junkie for your consideration . . .

Is using the word "bullshit" un-vegan? Does it perpetuate linguistic-based speciesism? Ditto with horseshit, chickenshit, dogshit — they're speciesist by default, if not always used in a speciesiest context.

I never associate the word with actually shit from a bull. BUT… we need new words that are cut free from exploitation. Just as people have chosen to jettison their slave names sometimes generations later, it's never too late to get the exploitation out of our words.

Also, I think it is easier than most people think to create new words. Especially if there's a need for a better word.  And everyone has their private vocabularies among their kids or friends.

I invented a word couple years ago, which quickly took root among friends: Whiffdoodle.

Here's the definition:

wiffdoodle – Also spelled "whiffdoodle." The iteration of an idea or plan (for an invention, business, civic improvement, etc.) which one knows he or she will never have the time, energy, or talent to execute. e.g., Chris: I had a high-quality wiffdoodle the other day.  Wanna hear it? Cindy: Chris, your entire life is a wiffdoodle.

In a very short time, it's become very natural to the friends of mine who use it. It works, has a Roald Dahl quality to it. And the meaning is clear.

The lesson: If you pick the right phonemes (memorable, fit with existing ways of making words, etc.), you can easily get new words into use.

So here's a whiffdoodle: A book or series of books (maybe just a wiki) of replacement words for speciesist terms — of which there must be thousands.

For "bullshit," I'm still trying to find a substitute in my own vocabulary — once I do, will let you know.

Any ideas? Any thoughts on the speciesism or un-veganness of "bullshit"?

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. This has been in the recesses of my mind for some time now.

    First of all, I would be wary of integrating such fine-grained language tweaks directly into the guidance of veganism. Speciesism sneaks into our language in countless places, though there isn't consensus about all of these, nor perfectly clear alternatives readily available in all cases. More importantly, I don't view any speciesist language, and definitely expletives like 'bullshit', as morally problematic in the same way as participating in exploitation. So whereas I view not making baked goods with cow's milk (or visiting the zoo) a moral duty/obligation, I can't say the same about claiming something you hear or see is 'bullshit'.

    However, as part of a broader project of anti-speciesism, with veganism as the baseline, I do think 'bullshit' should be tackled. It does seem to represent a mild contribution to, and reflection of, our disregard for bulls (horses, chickens). Even here though, I don't think that particular term is on nearly same level of importance as something like correcting speciesist pronoun usage (e.g. who vs that; she vs it; -one vs -thing), which should be strongly expected of every vegan (just not in quite the same way as the expectations arising from our true moral duties concerning nonhumans). Nor do I think it's on the same level as using a species name pejoratively. So I would say calling someone 'a chicken' (meaning they are cowardly) is much worse that blurting out 'chickenshit'. Chickens deserve respect, but their excrement, per se, not so much. Moreover, I'd first rather see resolutions to other language questions, like whether or not 'companion animal' or 'my gerbil' are acceptable phrases (I'd say not). Or even whether letting the word 'animal' float without a qualifier like 'other' or 'nonhuman' is good practice (I'd say not).

    One-for-one replacements for 'bull/horse/chicken shit' probably wont work (unlike with speciesist idioms like 'beat a dead horse' or 'kill two birds with one stone'). Expletives tend to be much more flexible in that their meanings vary greatly depending upon the context (e.g. 'fuck' can mean almost anything). In some instances, 'silly' or 'nonsense' can substitute for 'bullshit'. How about just saying 'shit' or 'crap' in other situations. Here are a few more possibilities to consider: 'bunk', 'poppycock', 'total shit'. Americans could consider borrowing 'bollocks' and 'rubbish' as well.

    June 12, 2009
  2. Mary Martin #

    I'm a huge fan of "rubbish."

    June 12, 2009
  3. Mike Grieco #

    The power of words, eh? I would often say: It's not "bullshit" or any other nonhuman "shit"–it is 'Humanshit'. Hah! I just can't help myself–silly me?

    Thanxxxx, Mary 🙂

    June 12, 2009
  4. Nick #

    I had never really thought about "bullshit" before, but now I think I'll make an effort to stop using it (though that might be hard, since I rarely contemplate saying it before I do). I agree with you, Mary; "rubbish" is great.

    Nathan, I agree that there are serious problems with the terms humans use for their "companion animals," but what do you suggest they be called instead? I agree that we shouldn't even keep domesticated non-humans, but until the end of domestication, we have to call the ones we take care of by some name. In addition, it's worth pointing out that possessive pronouns in English do not necessarily imply ownership. When I refer to "my sister" I do not mean that she is my property. Similarly, although a speciesist might think of "my gerbil" as property, I certainly do not, and use the word "my" in the same way I would use it for my sister.

    June 12, 2009
  5. Why not just "shit"? I also like "crap". Both are not species specific and simple, and retain the expletive-ness.

    June 12, 2009
  6. kim #

    I favore load of crap.

    June 12, 2009
  7. I agree completely with Nathan's comments on this issue.

    Mary, you said:
    "So here's a whiffdoodle: A book or series of books (maybe just a wiki) of replacement words for speciesist terms — of which there must be thousands."

    The definitive book on this issue is /Animal Equality/ by Joan Dunayer. She critically examines the exploitation of other animals and the speciesist language that facilitates this oppression. The book also contains a Style Guidelines section for writing and speaking and a Thesaurus that has "terms to avoid" and "suggested alternatives." I highly recommend this book. Link:

    June 12, 2009
  8. Thanks for this post, it is very helpful to me, I am very much battling with myself to get all the speciesist expletives and sayings out of my vocabulary, and I am glad there are others trying to do the same. I have failed many times, in fact last night in a Skype chat I said bullshit many times without even thinking. I am working on it, thanks for the inspiration and ideas!

    June 12, 2009
  9. Nick,

    When you say "my sister," the word "sister" is relational. A human equivalent to "my gerbil" would be "my human." I would say "my gerbil companion" or "my gerbil friend."

    "Companion animal" is one of the most offensive speciesist terms, in my opinion. It's on the same par as "farm animal," "furbearing animal," "laboratory animal," "circus animal," "zoo animal," etc. The term defines the nonhuman to their human use and suggests such use is natural and inherent to the being who is exploited. Following Dunayer's guidelines, I use the term "pets" when discussing dogs, cats, and other "domesticated" nonhumans who are bred and sold for human companionship, as in the "pet trade." I use the term "nonhuman companion" or "nonhuman friend" for those who are respected by their human caretakers, but usually give the species of the nonhuman animal if I know it. In my own case, I have two nonhuman friends: one rabbit companion and one cavy companion. Both are legally my property, but they are no doubt persons.

    June 12, 2009
  10. Nick #

    Brandon, I agree that "companion animal" is one of the most offensive speciesist terms. How ironic that it was created by so called "animal activists."

    You also make a good point about the difference between "my sister" and "my gerbil." The example of "my human" does show that there is a difference.

    June 13, 2009
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    June 14, 2009
  12. I second what Brandon said (and, coincidentally, am about halfway through Dunayer's "Animal Equality" myself). In addition to "nonhuman friend" and "nonhuman companion," I also use "dog friend," "cat friend," etc., as well as "dog kid," "cat kid," and "fur kids," when referring to "my" non-human animals.

    Re: "bullshit" and the like, I don't really see the term as problematic, because I think the insult lies more in the form of bodily waste than the animal who produced it. I read "shit" as the human form of the term; even though "human" isn't specified, I think it's implied (since the privileged class is usually the default; for example, there's "history," and then there's "women's history," "black history," etc.).

    Either way, "human shit" is an easy workaround; ditto "man shit," "Bob shit," etc.

    "Rubbish" works well, too. 🙂

    June 15, 2009

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