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The Power of Language

Remember the old childhood saying – “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me?”  That oft repeated phrase, meant to minimize the impact of hurtful words, fell far short of its goal. And the simple reason is that language is often as powerful a weapon as a stick or stone in inflicting deep pain.  When we are the recipients of hurtful words, it can feel like someone just shoved a knife into our gut.  Hearing these words repeated continuously can ultimately influence how we feel about ourselves.  Such is the power of language to alter the course of lives.

This truth has not been lost on the purveyors of animal exploitation who through their advertising agencies, are quite skilled in manipulating language. They too want to illicit strong feelings but in their case, they want to create the impression that their actions are, if not beneficent towards animals, at least not cruel and maybe even warranted. Let’s look at a few examples and when you read these, notice what thoughts and feelings they elicit in you.



Free Range



Processing Plant

Individual Accommodation



Wildlife Management





Now let’s take a look at what these words and phrases are often referring to.

Humane:  Often used in the phrase, “humane meat” to purportedly signify that the animals were raised and treated well. The truth is even these animals live in cramped stalls, are routinely kicked and punched by workers, and have their body parts mutilated without anesthesia.

Euthanasia:  A term commonly used to describe the process of killing healthy animals in over-crowded shelters as well as animals used in bio-medical research, which have been intentionally infected with diseases, and injured.

Free-Range:  An expression used by factory farms to create the impression that animals, often chickens, get to live cage-free, roam outside in the fresh air, and are treated humanely (there’s that word again!) The truth is that even though the chickens may not live in cages, they live their entire lives crowded together in large sheds, get trampled on by workers, get de-beaked without anesthesia, and unwanted male chicks are ground up while still alive.

Sacrifice:  This is another term often used in bio-medical research to denote the intentional killing of the lab animals that were experimented upon. They did not choose to “sacrifice” their lives.

Guides:  A term used by factory farmers to describe the whips and batons used to get the animals moving.

Individual Accommodation: And yet another term used by factory farmers to denote the tiny cages which house animals like pigs, during their short lives.

Processing Plant:  A slaughterhouse

Pool:  Often used instead of the word, tank, to describe where captive marine animals live.

Acquired:  A commonly used term to describe the capture of marine animals by marine parks.

Meat:  By using this generic term, we don’t have to think about who we’re really eating – a cow, a pig, a chicken, a lamb, etc.

Wildlife Management: A term, which describes the practice of sportsmen/sportswomen (a euphemism for hunters) ensuring they have enough targets (a euphemism used for hunted animals) by harvesting (a euphemism for killing) the animals that prey on their targets. (How about that – four euphemisms in one description!)

Now that some context has been supplied to the words/phrases, I once again invite you to notice what feelings they evoke in you. Is your visceral response any different from when you read the words and phrases without the context?  If so, you just experienced the careful and clever finessing of language, which has long been employed to influence your feelings, mindset, and ultimately, your actions towards animals.




Photo by susivinh

The Power of Language

April Lang, LCSW, SEP

April Lang, LCSW, SEP is a psychotherapist based in New York City and has been in private practice for twenty years. Part of her practice is devoted to working with ethical vegans and animal advocates, as well as people who are suffering from the loss of their animal family members. She is also an animal advocate, humane educator, and writer. You can learn more about her by visiting her website.

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APA Reference
Lang, A. (2019). The Power of Language. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Sep 2019
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