Fact/Fiction: Are vegans ruining the English language?

Old news, truthfully retold. After tabloids accused vegans of trying to remove meat-related words from the English language, we delve into the hot topic ahead of Christmas dinner

How it was told

Vegans are increasingly presented as a generational watershed. On the one side as outriders in a new caring society, on the other as representatives of people who can’t handle the truth. Last week, fittingly for Christmas, they were the pantomime villains, accused of calling for a ban on phrases like ‘bring home the bacon’.

The sensational claims stemmed from an article by Swansea University academic Dr Shareena Hamzah titled “How the rise of veganism may tenderise fictional language.”

The suggestion was slaughtered in the Daily Star under the headline “Vegan war on animal phrases.” The Star’s stance was clear in the intro paragraph, which read: “Snowflakes are out to bash common British phrases such as ‘taking the bull by the horns’ because they might offend vegans.”

There is a similar sentiment in sister paper the Daily Express, which went with “The cat’s out of the bag: English phrases could be SCRAPPED over fears they OFFEND vegans.”

And The Sun was also tender on the story, writing: “WAR ON WORDS: ‘Bringing home the bacon’ could be BANNED to stop vegans getting offended.”

Daily Mail columnist Christopher Hart took a bite into the claims with “Heaven help us if vegan activists say we can’t bring home the bacon any more”, blasting the “pie-in-the-sky animal rights zealotry” behind the suggestion.

Facts. Checked.

There was never any meat on the bones of this story. If you need proof of how much the original argument has been butchered then look no further than Dr Hamzah’s response on Twitter.

“While I’m glad to have interest in something I wrote, I never suggested banning anything, and my discussion has been altered by clickbait headlines,” she said.

As the title suggests, her article analysed how meat is used in literature to symbolise power in society and power for men. So in fictional language. That’s right, FICTIONAL.

She suggests, for example, that author Jeanette Winterson uses “meaty metaphors” to shine a light on society’s inequalities like in her book The Passion. Or how Virginia Woolf uses a meat stew in To The Lighthouse to underline how female labour cooks it for matriarchal figure William Bankes.

Dr Hamzah’s theory is that our changing diets with the rise of veganism is likely to augment our language, just as, say, our increasing use of text speak would see people say “brb” instead of “Be right back”.

Language is a constantly evolving beast with trends in culture and society finding their way into our everyday speak and that is replicated in the written sphere too.

“Given that fiction often reflects on real world events and societal issues, it may very well be that down the line powerful meat metaphors are eschewed,” Dr Hamzah wrote. “While it’s unlikely we’ll start saying that someone has been overlooked like “chopped cabbage”, some shift in language is inevitable.

“The increased awareness of vegan issues will filter through our consciousness to produce new modes of expression – after all, there’s more than one way to peel a potato. At the same time, metaphors involving meat could gain an increased intensity if the killing of animals for food becomes less socially acceptable.”

The article also links to animal rights charity PETA’s campaign to change these kinds of phrases to promote healthier animal-human relationships. The group suggested swapping ‘bring home the bacon’ for ‘bring home the bagels’, for example.

There is no meat in any claims that Dr Hamzah or any vegans are calling for a ban or even that the phrases are offensive or unpalatable to vegans.

Read the full article in this week's Big Issue.
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Illustration: Miles Cole