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The Words We Use Matter

In a recent paper in Biological Conservation, scientists argue that the widespread use of euphemisms by conservation biologists, conservation journals, and conservation biology course materials undermines efforts to evoke caring in others for life on Earth and even to care for ourselves.

Euphemisms like “harvest,” “cull,” and “bycatch” are used as a means to mask the indefensible. They help candy coat reality by describing activities (like killing) in acceptable words that audiences would otherwise find objectionable.

But the words we use matter. Euphemisms don’t only disconnect the scientific community from the consequences of their actions, they diminish or preclude emotion. And it is emotion that connects us to each other, to other creatures, to the wider world that made us.

Is it time for all of us to be bolder?