Reducing animals to ‘game’–a political word choice

Kathleen Stachowski    Other Nations

The online etymology dictionary tells me this about the word “game”:

game (n.)

O.E. gamen “game, joy, fun, amusement,” common Germanic (cf. O.Fris. game “joy, glee,” O.N. gaman, O.S., O.H.G. gaman “sport, merriment,” Dan. gamen, Swed. gamman “merriment”), regarded as identical with Goth. gaman “participation, communion,” from P.Gmc. *ga- collective prefix + *mann “person,” giving a sense of “people together.” Meaning “contest played according to rules” is first attested c.1300. Sense of “wild animals caught for sport” is late 13c.; hence fair game (1825), also gamey.

It’s that “wild animals caught for sport” that I’m after. Just got back from a trip to southern Utah canyon country. Wish I had kept a journal of all the sights I saw along the way that distressed and depressed my sensibilities, but then again, it’s nuthin’ that hasn’t annoyed most of you, too. You know the stuff I’m talking about.

But here’s one that really sticks in my craw with its unadulterated disrespect: Those diamond warning signs that read GAME CROSSING. Saw those in Idaho, and in the past, have seen them in Wyoming, too. Game crossing? Doesn’t that reduce animals to nothing more than a target for bullet or arrow? Merely an object of pursuit? A thing placed here for human “sport and merriment”?

I did a double-take the first time I saw one of these game crossing signs–it was outside of Jackson, WY. Montana, which largely shares the Idaho and Wyoming mindset where animals are concerned, uses more neutral “wildlife crossing” warning signs or the wordless leaping deer symbol. The tacit message (that these are wild animals first and foremost) is more respectful toward the animal, and most inclusive (and least offensive) to all humans, whether or not we ever consider them game animals. I appreciate the fact that I’m not confronted with “game crossing” signs in my day-to-day life.

Reducing animals to game–even when it’s not hunting season–is certainly a political word choice. Once game, always game…and assuredly never a being who enjoys the warmth of the sun after a long, cold winter; never a mom who loves her offspring; never a young’un romping with others for the pure joy of it.

Where you and I see a wild being darting across the road to pursue the interests of his or her life, some others apparently see just a bull’s-eye.

7 Responses

  1. Euphemisms serve to reduce emotional arousal in many if not most languages…they also end up reducing precision of thought. Most people (even those doing the killing) would object to or at least be a little abashed with a sign that said “Animals you can hunt and kill crossing.” For the most part, when you start running into a lot of euphemism use (and killing animals is certainly one area) you are generally talking about an area that most humans have powerful and uneasy-making emotions about. We make up code words to distance ourselves from the topic.

  2. Thanks for your comment, veganelder. Inside my own head I was comparing the game crossing sign to the more familiar “wildlife crossing” sign or the purely graphic leaping deer symbol, neither of which offends the way “game crossing” does. These both seem far more neutral, whereas labeling animals as game has an agenda. I should have made that contrast clear within the text of the post.

  3. I agree with every point made in both in the post and two comments above mine.

    Here’s hoping you found a few sights that uplifted your sensibilities and mentally recorded them, Kathleen.

    Recently I read an article on a blog (wish I could remember where) in which the author pointed out that even the word “wild” has a negative connotation in a civilized culture. I think she suggested substituting it with a more civilized-sounding word like “free-roaming.”

    Boy, it’s mind-boggling how many times we could/should question what we see and what we say. Most of the time stuff goes right over our heads because we’re so brainwashed by our culture’s often upside down version of normal and nice and natural and necessary. ‘Tis a never-ending process of peeling the layers, isn’t it?

  4. My gawd, what do you want? “Quail Crossing”? “Robin Crossing”? “Ant Crossing”? Nothing ever satisfies a hard core,radical environmentalist. At LEAST there IS a sign to denote and warn of impending harm to the poor, innocent little critter. The days of radicalized, highly charged environmental rhetoric are quickly coming to an end. You need to realize that cooperative conservation is the trend now, just as it should be. By the way, “Homo sapiens” crossing-let’s put that sign up as well.

  5. I have updated the original text of the post (something I should have done right away) to better reflect the more respectful, more inclusive alternatives to “game” crossing. Words matter.

    CQ, you might be thinking of Dr. Priscilla Cohn’s response to a column in Psychology Today (find it here ) which I mentioned in this post:

  6. Again… Yes! Words are fashioned to trick us into not thinking! There is absolutely no “sport” in which a nonhuman is used. A “contestant” implies a willingness to join in the “game”. The “prize” should be equal to all. Of course this is never the case with hunting. But those who take pleasure in the killing would sure like to make us think it’s so. Or rather, they would like us to not *think* at all!

    This photo has a twist to it as well. First, did they run out of room for all the multi-species of “game”? And secondly… The absurd plea for “caution” lest we harm them before they can be murdered.
    Oh I do pity us for our knotted brains. 😦

  7. Good point, Bea. I’ve seen animals killed in situations that were not only not “fair,” but there wasn’t even any “chase” involved. I couldn’t resist checking out the luxury African game reserve whose pic you posted (ah, the time-wasting draw of the internets!). They call themselves a Big 5 reserve (apparently a safari standard, see ) and then to lure in the fishing crowd, they stock a “fighting fish” to make the Big 6. I’m betting the sign is more an enticement/advertisement than a cautionary message!

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