Call It What It Is

Euphemism (definition): a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

Euphemisms matter.

I’m a writer. I love words and pay attention to their meaning and use.

I’m also a historian. I know how words can be used to shape perceptions, to misinform, cover up atrocities.

This is often accomplished with euphemistic labeling: “Activities can take on different ‘appearances’ depending on what names are given or attached them. Euphemistic language is a means to make injurious and harmful behavior respectable and reduce responsibility for it from the person. With the help of intricate rephrasing, detrimental behavior is made innocuous and acceptable, and people who are part of it are liberated from feeling a sense of guilt.”1

deer in pasture
White-tailed deer traipsing across my field in 2006, making their way from one section of the Payette National Forest to another.

It’s no secret that I loathe “hunting.” I’ll never understand how stalking, terrifying, wounding and/or killing wild creatures brings anyone a thrill. Sadly, though, it does, and so killing seasons persist despite all we’re learning and understanding about animal sentience, biology, and the natural balance between predator and prey species that’s necessary for an ecosystem’s survival. Especially at a time when all ecosystems, everywhere on this planet, are under great stress and threat from changing climates, with so many species already gone or on the brink of extinction due to man’s inability to manage this resource called Earth, why keep living an unsustainable past, adding to the carnage?

dog in yard, deer in field
The boys busy with treats while keeping an eye on the white-tailed deer crossing our field.

I take some solace in knowing that many of those who enjoy killing have at least a minuscule sense that maybe what they’re doing isn’t right and is increasingly challenging to justify in modern society. Manufacturers of the killing tools and supplies work overtime to make the sport appear glamorous and adventurous, even trying to bring women on board to bolster their waning sales. They see the writing on the wall, but aren’t giving up easily or quickly. You see the unease in the lengths they go, creating a language around the activity that tries to avoid describing accurately who they are and what they do: killers, killing.

Here are some examples of current sanitized terms followed by what is really meant (my definitions):

Hunting = killing

Game = wild animals going about their lives in the wilderness

Blood sport = slaughter for fun

Trophy hunting = moronic effort to prove one’s worth as a human

Fair chase = killing with assists from scopes, high-powered, long-range rifles, artificial calls, drones

Harvesting = killing, then butchering for the choice parts, maybe just the “trophy” (head and antlers), leaving the rest to rot

Management = government entities eliminating natural predators on federal lands to unnaturally increase number of “game” animals so it’s easier for killers to find and kill them

Baiting = the legal, condoned use of barrels filled with fish parts and offal (animal entrails, internal organs) to attract bears to a cowardly killing perch built in a tree near and above the bait barrel

And from a collection of websites catering to hunters, explaining their own sanitized lingo:

Field dressing – quickly removing the entrails of a killed deer or elk so the meat doesn’t spoil. (Also called gutting, which is more accurately descriptive.)

Processing – skinning, quartering, and cutting all the meat off of a deer or elk carcass.

Quartering – cutting the legs off of an animal while butchering it.

Score – inches measured using the Boone & Crockett measuring system. Deer and elk used to be ranked by their weight or the number of “points” the antlers counted for, but hunters now are “scoring” their bucks to determine how they rank among others.

Glassing – using binoculars or spotting scopes to look for game from a vantage point.

Shooter – term to describe a deer or elk you would kill.

Ugly stuff. Makes one wonder: who would enjoy it, and why?

Euphemisms, euphemistic labeling, dehumanization of others…all a very slippery slope plummeting toward utter darkness and depravity. Think about the African slave trade, the Holocaust, “ethnic cleansing” and nationalist movements, in the past or now occurring. They all require just the right euphemistic language to make good people turn a blind eye while bad people jump aboard the evil bandwagon and cheer.

deer in field
White-tailed deer, ever-alert and quick to run, tails held high, at the first sign of danger.

If today’s trophy and sport hunting is a good thing, why does the language need such sanitizing, providing such obfuscation?

A Pathetic Sport / Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsmen grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and aesthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one.

Edward Abbey

Featured photo: white tail deer crossing my lot and subdivision, a safe haven, in April 2015. I refer to their regular path as The Deer Highway.

  1. Bandura, Albert (1999-08-01). “Moral Disengagement in the Perpetration of Inhumanities”. Personality and Social Psychology Review.

7 thoughts on “Call It What It Is”

  1. Great Abbey quote. Soon, my local paper will be filled with the dead deer pictures. These are daily shots of children as young as seven years old, standing over their first kill. As a meat eater, I’m not necessarily against the concept of killing your own food, but to glorify it is sick. Maybe they’ll publish a picture of me standing behind my shopping cart on the day the grocery has its meat sale.

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    1. It can be hard to avoid. When I called the local gov’t office last month, rather than put on hold the phone was set down and I had to overhear two guys bragging about their hunting exploits. I’ve done my best to eliminate ads for the “sport” or companies that cater to it from my social media feeds and online news. And I sure as hell skip by (and block) any online dating profile where the guy is posing with something dead!

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  2. Beautiful photos. I dread driving by our local store this time of year…. residents gather to display their kills on the tailgates of their pickups. Makes me ill seeing them gloat.

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    1. Thank you. I had to offer something beautiful to offset the ugly. They used to display kills around here, even tie the head of a buck to the grill of their pickups as they drive through town (yes, I had to witness that). Barbaric. Idaho’s Fish & Game has “educated” them to stop doing such things, to be more aware of public perception, so it’s less obnoxious now.

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  3. I love that quote at the end. I grew up in a hunting town. We had a hunting holiday, 4 day weekend the open weekend of hunting season where I grew up. It was a way of life. I definitely have mixed feelings (as I do eat meat, and in some ways hunting an animal that has been allowed to live out in the wild until it is hunted is much more humane than most of the meat we eat). Still some of the hunting methods used are to be despised. Trophy hunting is slimy and wasteful and such a bizarre way for us to show off our “skill.” It’s silly, it doesn’t take any more effort to shoot a small deer than a big one with giant antlers… It’s still just squeezing a trigger.

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  4. This is a tough one for me. I was raised in a hunting culture yet I only went hunting a few times. I really didn’t take to it and I certainly didn’t pose for any pictures. When I was a kid, I shot a bird with my BB gun and then spent the rest of the day in my room crying. I couldn’t dare let anyone see me doing that though, I would have been considered less of a man where I was from. I wouldn’t have a problem if someone truly needed to hunt to live, but as for sport and trophy killing? No fucking way. I get more thrill out of seeing an animal living in it’s environment than I ever would ending it’s life.

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    1. I’ve heard many stories like yours. Makes me sad anyone, child or adult, is pressured into killing wildlife just to fit in or feel “manly.” I’m not begrudging those who hunt to survive, but that’s a negligible number; the vast majority are in it for the “sport.” Glad you followed your better, inner self and picked up a camera instead.

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