"Animals should not be described as 'vermin', 'pests' or even 'pets', animal ethicists have decided. Academics say that traditional words used to characterise animals like 'beasts' and 'critters' are derogatory and should be replaced.
They say words like 'pests' and 'vermin' should be dropped altogether, and 'pets' replaced by 'companion animals'. 'Wild animals' should be termed 'free living or free ranging animals' they argue, because 'wildness' is too close to 'uncivilised'.
The call for a new 'animal language' has been made by the editors of a new academic journal, the Journal of Animal Ethics, published this month for the first time by the University of Illinois Press.
They said: 'Despite its prevalence, "pets" is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers. 'Again the word "owners", whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint.'
But their semantic zeal does not end with man's best friends. They also argue for a new understanding of animals in their natural habitat. 'In addition, we invite authors to use the words "free-living", "free-ranging" or "free-roaming" rather than "wild animals",' they said.
'For most, "wildness" is synonymous with uncivilised, unrestrained, barbarous existence. There is an obvious prejudgment here that should be avoided.'