ANIMAL WORD WARP: Introduction – Twisting Familiar Words to Different Different Meanings, Meaningful or Not

 ANIMAL WORD WARP is a publication of The Animal Council, published serially exclusively on our Blog, exploring divergent usage of words relating to animals by English speaking Americans as we start the second decade of the twenty first century.  The divergences interesting to us are not merely synonyms but shift meanings, whether or not intented, either actively or passively.  Are these divergences meaningful and why?  Can they be contrived to change public policy, hearts or minds?  Do we use words with intention or mere familiarity and habit? 

The meaning of “warp” of interest to us is to distort, twist or turn from one sense to another, ranging from inperceptible to radical.  When must we be mindful of our own usage, and when might we challenge others’ usage?  Are some divergences merely innocent and perhaps unintentional or negligent but others sinister and divisive? 

In this field, most people now realize that “owner”, “guardian”, “pet parent” and even generic words like “caretaker”, “custodian” or “keeper” can be tricky, politicized words, but what about terms like veterinary “elective” versus “cosmetic” procedures or “breed specific” versus “breed profiling”?  What about the nebulous euphemism, “automatic right of entry” versus deprivation of 4th amendment search warrant requirement?  These are some of the terms we’ll discuss in this series, but we begin with a simpler example.

Last month, four dog clubs held American Kennel Club licensed shows at a facility currently called the “San Mateo Event Center” now on the signage and print media.  The immediately prior name, “San Mateo Expo” is printed on the parking receipts.  On the first show day, the announcer’s voice over the loud-speaker said, “The Fairgrounds called…”  In most of our minds, this facility has and always will be the “fairgrounds” where we went for the County Fair, dog and cat shows and until recently, dog training.  The facility still falls under authority of the state agricultural law covering what we know as “fairgrounds”, albeit often under political pressure for sale and redevelopment for housing and commercial use.  The famed Bay Meadows race track with its sprawling stables used to be next door, is now one final pile of rubble.  At the “Event Center”, buildings where we used to train dogs have been turned into a satellite wagering facility (see final photo below).  San Mateo Dog Training Club held its last classes there a couple years ago and is just now starting classes at a small facility in another town.  The actual local AKC all breed club has been holding its show 50 miles away, far from San Mateo County.  But, the “Event Center” must need some rental income after Christmas, so for now, we can still visit “the fairgrounds” for these shows.  As showgoers know, the sight of vendors’ peaked tents means we’re almost there.  Hurrying in with dog(s) and equipment in tow, it would have been easy to miss the “No Dogs Allowed” signs, an ominous juxtaposition and a “first” for the California fairgrounds we visit. 

© The Animal Council and The Animal Council’s Blog, 2010.

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