Will Dictionary.com Correct Incorrect ‘Animal’ Definitions?

Dictionary.com Asked to Reject Speciesism by Changing Its Outdated Definitions of ‘Animal’

For Immediate Release:
October 22, 2019

Nicole Meyer 202-483-7382

Oakland, Calif.

Because Dictionary.com incorrectly defines “animal” as “any living thing other than a human being,” (our emphasis) a “thing,” and a “brutish or beastlike person,” the last one being needlessly derogatory but at least getting it partially right (since animals are people, too), PETA has sent a letter pointing out that humans are also animals and asking the dictionary to change the word’s definitions to reflect that. The group notes that the current definitions foster a divide between humans and other animals that fuels speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview that often leads to discrimination and denigration of the “other.”

“Words matter, and Dictionary.com has a responsibility to provide accurate and comprehensive definitions that serve people and don’t mislead them,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA is calling on this online resource to specify that human beings are animals, which is scientifically accurate and will go a long way toward combating harmful speciesist attitudes.”

PETA’s motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way.” For more information, please visit PETA.org.

PETA’s letter to Dictionary.com CEO Elizabeth McMillan follows.

October 22, 2019

Elizabeth McMillan, CEO

Dear Ms. McMillan,

On behalf of PETA’s more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide, I’m writing to request that you revise your definition of “animal” to reflect the fact that humans are also animals.

Currently, the first definition for “animal” begins, “any member of the kingdom Animalia.” But the second definition incorrectly states, “[A]ny such living thing other than a human being.” This distinction implies that humans are not part of the animal kingdom, although we are. The fifth definition, “[A]n inhuman person; brutish or beastlike person,” gets it partially right, since animals are people, too, but it’s a derogatory definition, as “brute” and “beast” are given a negative connotation. Finally, further defining animals as a “thing” (definition six), making them sound inanimate, only deepens the false divide between humans and other animals and helps fuel speciesism, the misguided belief that one species is more important than another. This toxic mindset is deeply ingrained in our society, resulting in many negative consequences.

Most people wouldn’t dream of treating a dog the way the food industry treats pigs, even though pigs experience the same pain, joy, and fear as dogs. Many humans wear coats stuffed with down feathers ripped out of a goose’s skin, but they would never consider tearing out fistfuls of a parakeet’s feathers. All animals are individuals, with their own desires, needs, and complex lives. Their interests should never be ignored just to benefit humans.

Speciesist thinking has troubling implications for the treatment of our fellow human beings as well. A 2009 study found that after participants read short passages emphasizing the differences between humans and other animals, they were less sympathetic toward other humans (in this case, immigrants). The study’s authors wrote, “As anticipated, outgroup dehumanization appears rooted in the perception that humans are different from and superior to animals.”

Dictionary.com is a very popular language guide. You can help stop harmful supremacist attitudes and give animals the respect they deserve just by modifying your definition of “animal” to remind readers that humans are animals, too.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and attention.


Tracy Reiman
Executive Vice President

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