Saturday, August 13, 2005

Animal Story and The Way We Talk

I saw a news story yesterday about a couple of teenagers in Canada who gave a dead cat an emergency C-section. I like animal stories, and I am glad not all of the kittens had to die with the mother cat and that a cat who'd lost her kittens was able to adopt new ones. But a point of language struck me.

After discovering that the cat's body was still warm, they
decided to try to save its kittens ...

[She] made an incision into the mother cat's belly and could
see the kittens.
She pulled them out and found that two of four kittens were
still alive...

We--and by "we" I mean everyone, including MSM--have no problem referring to what's in the womb of a pregnant cat as "kittens"--i.e. the usual word for immature cats. Or what's inside the womb of a pregnant dog as "puppies" (the usual word for immature dogs), etc. It is only when referring to what's inside the womb of a human that using the usual word for its offspring--i.e. "baby"--becomes controversial.

Some people not only won't say "baby" but will correct those who do: "It's not a baby, it's a fetus!" (Never mind that "fetus" comes from the Latin for "baby" or "offspring".) And MSM stories that involve pregnant women and what they're carrying sometimes say "baby" and sometimes "fetus" or other; an ongoing news story may see the same being go from being referred to as "fetus" to "baby"--for example, things along the line of "Fetus Missing" to "Baby Found" this past winter when that pregnant woman was murdered and her, um, "product of conception" stolen. And it's not always clear why MSM choose to use one word over the other. Maybe wanted uterine passengers are "babies" and uterine passengers that are not wanted by the mother--or that the speaker/writer think the woman shouldn't have--are "fetuses"? Of course the MSM has to be careful how it talks about things to avoid offending readers/viewers, but I think sometimes they're playing the same game the non-media people are: change what you call it and you'll change what it is.

And none of this is to suggest that "fetus", "embryo", etc. are incorrect, only to point out that it's a bit odd for no one to mind our saying "kitten" in a place where our saying "baby" would have people yelling at us.

You know, maybe the "it's not a baby, it's a fetus" people are a bit like those people who get very angry when human evolution is mentioned, but who don't bat an eye when, say, badger evolution is mentioned or when their doctors talks to them about bacteria and viruses adapting to our medical treatments or when pesticide companies talk about insects evolving to endure our current pesticides.

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