Killer App

A couple months ago, I heard about a slick browser plugin (sadly, available only for Chrome) that replaces the word literally with figuratively for websites, articles, etc. I (literally?) cannot describe just how appealing this is to my inner (and sometimes outer) language bully. Indeed, the thought of the enormous satisfaction sure to follow was almost (but not quite) enough to get me to switch browsers.

More than anything else, though, the story got me thinking of a plugin not yet (so far as I know) developed: Euthanasia.

Functionally similar to the Literally plugin, Euthanasia would replace the word euthanasia with killing (and, by extension: euthanize with kill, euthanized with killed, etc.) while browsing online.

So, for example, when American Bird Conservancy president George Fenwick calls on local governments “to act swiftly and decisively to gather the 30 million to 80 million unowned cats, aggressively seek adoptions, and establish sanctuaries for or euthanize those cats that are not adoptable,” you’d see this:

“Local governments need to act swiftly and decisively to gather the 30 million to 80 million unowned cats, aggressively seek adoptions, and establish sanctuaries for or KILL those cats that are not adoptable.”

Or this, from PETA’s website (from a page that would, appropriately, be retitled KILLING: The Compassionate Option):

“Until dog and cat overpopulation is brought under control through spaying and neutering, we must prevent the suffering of unwanted animals in the most responsible and humane way possible. KILLING, performed properly, is often the most compassionate option.”

To be clear, I don’t avoid the term euthanasia entirely, but only when referring to those instances when it’s done to relieve an animal’s irremediable suffering. Or out of respect for the intention of shelter staff who are, all too often, put in an untenable position—asked to protect some lives and take others.*

What I object to—and what the Euthanasia plugin would help remedy—is the word’s frequent use as a cowardly euphemism, an easy way to let ourselves off the hook. It’s disingenuous at best; at worst, it’s despicable—promoting the Culture of Killing while at the same time refusing responsibility.

Imagine what this clever bit of technology could do for the way policymakers, the mainstream media, and the general public see the issue. It could be revolutionary. (Literally.)

* I have Kate Hurley, program director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, to thank for this perspective. It was a point she made during her presentation at the 2012 Outdoor Cats Conference.

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