As vegans, we’ve removed dairy from our refrigerators and products tested on animals from our medicine cabinets, but one area often overlooked is our vocabulary. Sure, expressions such as “kill two birds with one stone,” “like a chicken with its head cut off,” and “take the bull by the horns” have become part of American lexicon, but after thorough research, we’ve discovered more cruelty-based idioms, phrases, and sayings to fill an entire encyclopedia. With roots in everything from hunting to fishing and circuses to horse racing, it’s time for this terminology to disappear. The best way to accomplish this is to recognize when our language doesn’t match our values, and come up with compassionate ways to get our points across. Here are seven sayings to get started.
“Beat around the bush”
Used to describe someone who avoids getting to the point of a topic, this idiom has roots in hunting and dates back to 1440. While hunting birds, some people would beat bushes to startle the animals so other participants could catch them in nets. The expression then emerged as the prelude to the actual capturing of the birds.
Replace with: “Get to it, already!”
The word “jumbo” is now defined in the dictionary as something extremely large, but it didn’t always. Thought to originate from slang for someone who is clumsy, the use of “jumbo” become popularized when it became the name of the first elephant to successfully be transported to Africa. Jumbo, the largest animal in captivity, was then purchased by PT Barnum and brought to the United States to tour with his circus. This resulted in an emerging trend of various Jumbo-themed products and souvenirs.
Replace with: “OMG-sized”
“Get a rise out of someone”
This expression—used to describe an attempt to elicit a response from someone, specifically one who is irritated or annoyed—originates from fisherman dropping a fly or bait in a certain spot in hopes that they will get fish to rise to the bait and then capture the animal.
Replace with: “trolling” This is a very popular expression among young people. People will get understand this.
“Off the hook”
This idiom describes someone who is no longer in trouble or obligated to do something. Rooted in fishing, the saying describes an animal who has been hooked on a lure and is out of options. If the fish is taken off the hook, then they are out of their predicament, just like people. However, if the fish is kept on the hook, they will be caught and killed.
Replace with: “You’re no longer needed”
White elephants were highly valued by monarchs in Southeast Asia after a man successfully smuggled one out of Burma by painting the elephant red and blue. PT Barnum brought one to the US, except his white elephant was gray and with pink splotches. Barnum’s rivals even painted a grey elephant white at the beginning of every week to keep up with the competition. Ultimately, these animals were more trouble than they were worth, which is why a white elephant is a property requiring too much care and expense, resulting in little profit or usefulness.
Replace with: “regifting”
“Straight out of the gate”
If someone experiences success at the beginning of an endeavor, they’re doing well. The gate in question, however, refers to the starting gate that would keep horses in before a race. So when a horse would emerge quickly from the beginning, they would be doing well straight out of the gate.
Replace with: “From the beginning”
“Barking up the wrong tree”
This idiom clearly involves dogs, but did you know it references hunting, too? Dating back to the early 19th century when people would hunt with packs of dogs, the expression describes when a dog would signal for prey when there wasn’t. This was often because animals such as racoons would escape, leaving dogs barking up the wrong tree. In modern times, it’s used to signal the wrong choice or a misguided action.
Replace with: “You’re wrong, and you’re wasting your time”