The English language is filled with thousands of idioms that add humor, color and character to what would otherwise be dull and drab vernacular. One of the most fun feature stories I wrote a couple years ago about birdhouse craftsman Paul Saffert of Rice Lake was filled with bird-related idioms. I was proud as a peacock with how it turned out. However, I’m sure it would ruffle the feathers of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who in January came out with suggested revisions to animal idioms in an attempt to change the “speciesisms” in our language.
On their naughty list are common sayings like “take the bull by the horns,” “beating a dead horse,” “bring home the bacon,” “be the guinea pig” and “kill two birds with one stone.” PETA advises updating the above phrases to “take the flower by the thorns,” “feed a fed horse,” “bring home the bagels,” “be the test tube” and “feed two birds with one scone.”
“As our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it,” noted the article from PETA. “Just as it became unacceptable to use racist or homophobic terms, … phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals will vanish as people begin to appreciate animals for who they are.”
I think they are opening a can of worms and would imagine they are going to be running around like they have ants in their pants if they are going to scourge all animal idioms from our vocabulary, which is packed like sardines with them. It won’t get done in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, that’s for sure. They’ll just have to hold their horses.
Are there any animal phrases still on their nice list? Can cats still be curious? Can bugs be snug? Foxes sly? Beavers eager? Bats blind? Lambs gentle? Mules stubborn? Is it okay to mention the large tears shed by crocodiles? Can we still pig out or eat crow?
It will be like a wild goose chase to find and substitute all of our animal idioms with non-animal substitutes. It will have us walking on eggshells, super careful of what we say lest we let the cat out of the bag. I don’t wish to cry wolf about these new standards of speech, but they are giving me so many butterflies in my stomach that the cat’s got my tongue, and I’m timid as a mouse to say anything.
Are you still with me? Do you get the idea? I hope they hear it from the horse’s mouth — we don’t like being told what we can and cannot say.
For years I’ve taken photos at Ridgeland’s Pioneer Day, which is coming up again on Saturday. It’s a villagewide party, and animals are invited. The morning starts out with lots of squeals from children and pigs alike as they chase each other around Eldon Luer Field, where there are horse pulls during their Labor Day weekend fair.
Back to their winter celebration, once the winners are named in the greased pig contest, cages filled with about 100 chickens are placed on the roof of a downtown business, around which thousands typically gather to watch the chickens get released — sometimes they take flight into a nearby tree or onto another rooftop, other times they land in the arms of spectators. I’ve had a chicken almost hit my camera lens — but I was too chicken to catch it! I’ve also had some trouble delineating who in the crowd are chicken catchers and who are chicken rescuers. I’ve taken photos of some people with chickens only to be told they are from Madison and the chickens they caught are going back with them. Not sure if chickens like long car rides in heavy traffic; that sounds like torture to me.
After the feathers settle at Pioneer Day, next comes the horse-drawn parade with horses and riders of all sizes — from little mites on up. Organizers are not canceling it cold turkey like most other events. I’m not sure if their decision makes horse sense, but it’s a go whether it’s raining cats and dogs or not. Nothing gets their goat. They’re riding high on the hog.
If it’s not apparent by now, let’s just say I use a lot of animal idioms, and I will be as frustrated as a bee in a bonnet if I have to remove them all from my speech and writing. It’s too hard to teach an old dog new tricks.