PETA Wants Dictionary.com to Change Definition of 'Animal,' Says It's 'Speciesist'

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the animal rights organization, is calling on Dictionary.com to change its definition of the word "animal," claiming that the current definition creates a "human-supremacist" distinction between humans and other animals that it believes is "speciesist."

In a letter sent to Dictionary.com CEO Elizabeth McMillan Tuesday, and obtained by Newsweek, PETA's executive vice president Tracy Reiman urges Dictionary.com to update its definition to reflect that humans are animals too.

The letter states: "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," writes Reiman.

"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."

Animal definition on Dictionary.com
Animal definition on Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com

The letter concludes that by changing the definition of animal, "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."

Dictionary.com lists "animal" as a noun with six definitions, including "any such living thing other than a human being," "an inhuman person; brutish or beastlike person," and "thing," all of which PETA takes issue with.

An example for the latter definition of animal as a "thing" distinguishes it as unrelated to the animal kingdom, however. Instead, its use pertains to the description of something. The example reads: "A perfect job? Is there any such animal?"

"Words matter, and Dictionary.com has a responsibility to provide accurate and comprehensive definitions that serve people and don't mislead them," Reiman said in a statement. "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 combatting harmful speciesist attitudes."

Read the full letter sent by PETA to Dictionary.com below:

Elizabeth McMillan, CEO

Dictionary.com

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.

Sincerely,

Tracy Reiman

Executive Vice President

Dictionary.com did not respond to a request for comment.

PETA Wants Dictionary.com to Change Definition of 'Animal,' Says It's 'Speciesist' | News