Bring home the bi­nangkal


The peo­ple who speak for PETA know how to start a conversation.

They used to send the news­room press re­leases that in­cluded posters or pho­to­graphs of celebrities wear­ing strate­gi­cally placed cab­bage leaves and other veg­eta­bles. I don’t know how many peo­ple these images per­suaded to be­come veg­e­tar­i­ans or to give up all an­i­mal prod­ucts, in­clud­ing leather, en­tirely. More risqué ver­sions of these ads have pro­voked fem­i­nists to ask PETA why they couldn’t avoid sex­ism while they cam­paigned to end cru­elty to an­i­mals.

Last week, the Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals (PETA) sparked an­other de­bate when they urged peo­ple to avoid us­ing “meat­based id­ioms” be­cause these “triv­i­al­ize cru­elty to an­i­mals.” This caused less con­tro­versy last Septem­ber, when PETA Pres­i­dent In­grid Newkirk first sug­gested in The New States­man that peo­ple say “there’s more than one way to peel a potato,” in­stead of the more grue­some “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

Newkirk wrote: “Words have the power to change lives, both hu­man and non-hu­man. We should let them.”

Last week’s ex­am­ples, though, pro­voked plenty of ridicule on so­cial me­dia. PETA rec­om­mended, for in­stance, that we all avoid the id­iom “to bring home the ba­con” and to say “bring home the bagels” in­stead. I was tempted to sug­gest re­plac­ing bagels with bi­nangkal, which would be lo­cal and, as a bonus, more au­then­tic and cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate. Alas, bagels and bi­nangkal share a flaw: both re­quire eggs and, thus, are not cru­elty-free at all. (At least by PETA’s stan­dards, which are loftier than what my ba­con-and-chichar­ron-lov­ing soul can sup­port.)

I do love the idea of help­ing our lan­guage evolve “as our un­der­stand­ing of so­cial jus­tice evolves.” And I ap­pre­ci­ate that the re­minder ar­rived in the same week as Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s lat­est ex­am­ple of how not to speak from a po­si­tion of power and lead­er­ship, when he belly­ached (yet again) against some bish­ops and said that they were use­less fools who de­served to be killed. Rap­pler re­ported that the Pres­i­dent first pro­fessed his be­lief in God, then fol­lowed that with: “Pero itong mga obispo ninyo, patayin ninyo, walang silbi ‘yang mga gagong ‘yan (But these bish­ops of yours, kill them, these fools are good for noth­ing).” Pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Sal­vador Panelo told ABS-CBN that the state­ment was sim­ply “for dra­matic ef­fect.”

Yet there is a way to speak dra­mat­i­cally with­out be­ing reck­less, just as there is a way to avoid cru­elty in our ex­pres­sions with­out sound­ing ridicu­lous. I can agree with PETA that it’s time we put to rest the idea of “killing two birds with one stone.” But I’m not go­ing to re­place it with “feed­ing two birds with one scone.” Why en­cour­age an idea that abets lit­ter­ing and places birds at risk of di­a­betes?

All this ker­fuf­fle has done is veil PETA’s suc­cess on other fronts, such as in con­vinc­ing clothes de­sign­ers to avoid us­ing fur; per­suad­ing cos­met­ics and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies to stop test­ing their prod­ucts on an­i­mals; and putting pres­sure on restau­rants and fast-food chains to source their meat only from sup­pli­ers that treat an­i­mals well.

In urg­ing peo­ple to say “feed a fed horse” in­stead of “beat a dead horse,” an or­ga­ni­za­tion with an other­wise de­cent track record has missed an op­por­tu­nity to re­mind us to speak plainly. To give time­worn ex­pres­sions a rest not be­cause these en­cour­age “speciesism,” but be­cause these rein in lan­guage’s power to sur­prise us. PETA is right in en­cour­ag­ing us to avoid cru­elty in the ways we ex­press our­selves; that is a use­ful re­minder in these days when some peo­ple of­ten mis­take vul­gar­ity for hon­esty.

Where it misses the mark is in en­cour­ag­ing us to use silly ex­pres­sions in­stead. “Tak­ing the flower by the thorns” sounds no bet­ter than “tak­ing the bull by the horns.” At some point, we all must learn to face a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion with­out flinch­ing, which is what the ex­pres­sion means. The more clearly we can talk about it, the more use­ful the story can be­come.

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