The English language is full of words that have multiple meanings. In predominantly English-speaking countries, some words are deemed perfectly tame in North America but are considered offensive in other parts of the world.
Take the word “sod,” for example. In Canada and the United States, it refers to grass – the green stuff that grows in our yards, that is. In Britain, however, “sod” is primarily used as a noun to describe an unpleasant individual – usually a man – and is considered an impolite term.
Then there’s “fanny,” which is a harmless synonym for one’s behind or derriere – at least when used in North America. In Britain, though, the word is regarded as a vulgar reference to a neighbouring part of the female anatomy. If you’re a woman who’s planning a visit to Britain, you may want to substitute the word with something else if you were planning to say, “My fanny is getting sore. I need to get up and walk around.”
And, now, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is calling on Major League Baseball to drop the word “bullpen” from its lexicon, saying the term refers to the waiting area where bulls are kept before they’re slaughtered. PETA suggests baseball should change the name “bullpen” to the ungainly “arm barn.”
I don’t think PETA’s going to win this one. Up until last week, when I read about PETA’s missive to Major League Baseball, I had never heard “bullpen” used in association with the slaughter of cattle. It has always been a baseball term, and dates back 150 years. Poll 100 people about the word and 95 of them will cite the baseball reference.
I’m just as anti-animal cruelty as the next person, but PETA needs to forget about this. The organization doesn’t have nearly the clout of Major League Baseball and will never see victory with this campaign.
PETA has many supporters, but not everyone against animal cruelty is on board with its ways and means. Its marketing strategies have been rather controversial, to say the least, with a slew of female celebrities posing nude in advertising campaigns in which they’re saying they’d rather be naked than wear the fur of animals.
Primarily because of that campaign, the organization hasn’t been taken seriously in a lot of circles.
Bullpen is, first and foremost, a word that best describes the off-field part of a baseball diamond where relief pitchers warm up. PETA claims the baseball reference is “outdated” and needs more of a modern and neutral synonym. I submit that the reference to cattle slaughtering is the more outdated term.
Baseball is already ridiculing PETA’s want for change, and how can it not? The genius who proposed “arm barn” as a worthy substitute obviously knows little about baseball.
Major League Baseball and other professional sports have come a long way in recent years to kill off language considered distasteful. Several teams have dropped nicknames that are offensive to Indigenous peoples, for example.
But, wanting to eliminate a term that’s been associated with a sport since the 1800s is completely unnecessary. It’s important we understand that a word can have more than one meaning.