Guinea Pig

When I am alerted to an injustice I have inadvertently helped perpetuate, I usually try not to take it as a personal affront. I make the necessary changes, and continue forward.

But, the latest campaign by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals seems like it's a cartoon version of what a right-wing person thinks liberals are like.

“Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it. Here’s how to remove speciesism from your daily conversations,” the group wrote on Twitter Dec. 4. “Just as it became unacceptable to use racist, homophobic, or ableist language, phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals will vanish as more people begin to appreciate animals for who they are and start ‘bringing home the bagels’ instead of the bacon.” 

Accompanying this was a chart, “Stop Using Anti-Animal Language,” which suggested replacements for common idioms:

Instead of: “Kill two birds with one stone.” Say: “Feed two birds with one scone.”

Instead of: “Be the guinea pig.” Say: “Be the test tube.”

Instead of: “Beat a dead horse.” Say: “Feed a fed horse.”

Instead of: “Bring home the bacon.” Say: “Bring home the bagels.”

Instead of: “Take the bull by the horns.” Say: “Take the flower by the thorns.”

“Feed two birds with one scone,” and, “Bring home the bagels,” are actually kind of funny, and preserve the original intention. But, slipping them into your everyday vernacular may rightly cause those you were formerly conversing with to slowly edge in the direction of the exits.

But, the others are insane.

A “guinea pig,” when used in that context means “a subject of research, experimentation, or testing.” A test tube isn't the subject of the research, experimentation, or testing, it's a tool used to contain it.

Trying to replace, “Beat a dead horse,” with “Feed a fed horse,” is utter lunacy. I doubt the metaphorical horse cares how it's being spoken about, being dead, and all.

Swapping out, “Take the bull by the horns,” with, “Take the flower by the thorns,” makes the least sense. The original phrase means, “to deal with a difficult situation in a very direct or confident way.” Even if you were trying to deal with a difficult flower, why would you go for the thorns? You grab the bull by the horns because if you don't you're liable to get gored. Flowers are stationary, so why not choose the root or the stem? Also, PETA, did you know some scientists studying plant intelligence believe that they are conscious of their environment and can even feel pain? What's with all this anti-plant language, huh?

The best reason not to follow PETA's advice is right here in my “Associated Press Stylebook.” Under the entry for “clichés,” it instructs writers to “avoid hackneyed words and phrases, redundancies, and exaggerations.”

So, if you need another reason not to say, “Bring home the bagels,” you can attribute it to being lazy writing.

 Editor's Note: A few days after this article was posted, we received the following email from PETA:

Dear Editor,                       

Three weeks ago, PETA shared our list of “kinder, gentler” versions of animal-unfriendly idioms (a list we originally compiled years ago for our humane education program), and people are still talking about it (“Burgess: People For The Ethical Treatment of Clichés” 12-18-18). That certainly seems to prove our point that words matter.

No, a cat is not upset when someone casually refers to the many ways one can skin him or her, but using clichés that trivialize animal abuse desensitizes us to and normalizes the very real and horrific cruelty that billions of animals endure on a daily basis. When one considers that cats really are skinned alive (routinely in China for the leather and meat industries), horses really are beaten to death (by cruel people and in countries where they are still forced to haul heavy loads), and guinea pigs really are killed in painful and unnecessary experiments, expressions referencing these cruel acts are not as outlandish as some might think.

Animals are feeling, intelligent individuals capable of joy and suffering. They do not exist just so that humans can exploit or kill them for chicken nuggets, wool sweaters, or amusement park attractions. Our language should evolve to reflect this.


Alisa Mullins, The PETA Foundation



Rob Burgess, News Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at, by phone at 317-808-4614 or on Twitter @robaburg.


News Editor