How should we talk about slave-raiding ants?

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In response to yesterday’s Polyergus photo, Ed Yong asks:

Why yes, I do have views.

The semantics of brood parasitism in ants was first raised by Joan Herbers in 2006, and elaborated in 2007:

Let us apply to the slavery metaphor those arguments developed for changing the jargon of animal reproductive behavior. First, using human labels to describe animal behavior implies similarities that may be mistaken. Indeed, my experience verifies that use of the slavery metaphor triggers a connection with human brutality that is hard to shake (Anonymous 2002). Second, such terms are offensive because they evoke negative human experiences and can serve to reinforce the prevailing social order (Zuk 1993). More than one colleague has expressed this point of view to me concerning the slavery metaphor.

Third, I assert that by using such terms we may be harming the scientific enterprise itself. Because science is a culturally bounded human institution, we scientists can learn about the impact of our jargon from scholars of rhetoric. For example, Toni Morrison has studied how literary interpretation has been hampered by inattention to the fact that our societies are racially charged (Morrison 1992). Similarly, we must consider how our words affect public understanding and acceptance of science. In the United States, we are technologically dependent yet scientifically illiterate, and using jargon that discourages even one individual from learning more about science is simply irresponsible. I find it hard to imagine a young black student being attracted to a discipline that calls parasitized insects “slaves” and “negro ants.”

A final argument for discarding the slavery metaphor questions its aptness to the behavior we study. Ants depart from human slave owners in much of their behavior. They neither breed nor auction off their captives. Newly fertilized parasite queens must invade and take over an established host nest in order to secure the workforce needed to tend their eggs; this invasion behavior has no counterpart in human slavery. The metaphor is, at best, imperfect.

Yet discarding metaphors altogether in favor of obscure jargon is incompatible with interesting students and the public in my work. While no metaphor can be perfect, I offer an alternative. I suggest that we replace “slave-making ants” with “pirate ants.” Pirates certainly take captives when they board ships, and pirates rely on forced labor. We can replace “slave” with “captive” and “dulosis” with “leistic behavior,” from the Greek for pirated spoils, leistos. To be sure, the pirate metaphor has its own imperfections when we use it to describe ant behavior—but the social impact on audiences, if anything, might be positive. I, for one, prefer audiences to identify my work with Captain Jack Sparrow than with Simon Legree.

In naming scientific concepts we have a choice. We can create new terminology fit precisely to the phenomenon at hand, or we can co-opt common language to form an analogy. The analogy is going to be wrong on some level, as analogies are, but what we lose in accuracy we gain in pedagogy.

If I say ants are dulotic, or leistic, or cleptergic, a handful of specialists will understand. If I say ants take slaves, suddenly everyone who speaks English understands, even if the details are a little fuzzy.

Slavery was, and is, an ugly product of human society. I don’t wish to downplay the horrors of coerced labor and stolen lives, but the slavery metaphor is, in my opinion, strikingly close to what these ants are doing. However, let’s accept that Herbers’s argument from cultural sensitivity is correct. Our options are to use a more technical term (I like James Trager’s cleptergy), or to find a more apt analogy. Herbers prefers pirates.

I don’t think Herbers’s solution is workable, though. Piracy is a terrible parallel to what ants like Protomognathus and Polyergus do. Pirates take things. Slave-raiding ants aren’t primarily pillaging the food stores of other colonies. They don’t lay in wait along trails to steal forage. No. The brood parasites take actual, living ants whose labor they use for their own benefit. That is slavery. If I call these ants pirates, I am not communicating accurately about their biology. Piracy, for me, is out.

I run a web site that is visited by non-specialists. I need to employ terminology the public can understand, even if inexact. If we can borrow a better analogy than slavery (sweat-shops? kidnapping?) then I’m all for it. But until a more accurate parallel surfaces I have no problem calling the behavior of acquiring a labor force via brood theft slavery.


sources:
Herbers, J. M. 2006. The loaded language of science. Chronicle of Higher Education. 52: B5
Herbers, J. M. 2007. Watch Your Language! Racially Loaded Metaphors in Scientific Research. BioScience 57. doi 10.1641/B570203
Trager, J. 2007. Collected thoughts on “pirate” ants and “leistic” behavior. Notes from Underground, online.

41 thoughts on “How should we talk about slave-raiding ants?”

  1. There is an additional option: if you’re concerned that readers are going to run into the terms “brood theft” and/or “brood parasitism” and not know what they mean, make them a hyperlink to an explanation. (If writing for print, make it a footnote.) This neatly avoids all the loaded-language problems with “slavery” that Herbers notes, and stealth-teaches the readership the accepted technical terms.

  2. Another perspective is that Herber’s view (shared by many others) is focused on a very narrow and American perspective of what the word slavery means.

    Clearly, it is biased by (modern) American history. But the word slavery has a much broader definition in English and in humans in general. It describes a *phenomenon* that has occurred throughout human history in many different cultures and civilizations. The details are often different, but the general phenomenon is the same.

    In each human case of slavery, the phenomenon is incredibly offensive to current cultural norms, and this is a good thing. But, it does not change the long, broad view of the phenomenon of slavery in humans or other organisms. The use in ant biology, and other non-human organisms, is a perfectly reasonable application of that broader definition. Perhaps a better historical perspective is needed, not a new term for slavery in ants?

    1. I would not concur that Herbers is somehow focused on any particular region or historical period. Slavery is an ongoing issue in the world– see, for instance, Kevin Bales’ Disposable People.— and Herbers herself notes at http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1641/B570203#rid_i0006-3568-57-2-104-b2 the following: “Despite being outlawed in every country, the institution of slavery continues, with an estimated 27 million human beings in subjugation today; the persistence of slavery and human trafficking should cause us to rethink our use of the metaphor.”

      Further, suggesting that Herbers’ view is somehow “biased” is quite uncalled for.

      1. “uncalled for” how? Everything you added in still a perspective biased by modern events. My point was and is that the definition has a much deeper and broader historical meaning, both in human culture and evolutionay time.

  3. I agree that the word “slavery” applied to ants is well understood by most of people. It has been used for two centuries since Huber’s discovery of the amazon ants’ behaviour (1810). So, that word has the force of tradition and should still be used in myrmecology. But we must be very cautious with the concepts: human slavery can’t be compared with the so called ant slavery. The most important feature of human slavery is the suppression of freedom and dignity, and these feature does not exist in the biology of ants. This error of trying to compare what is incomparable can be seen in the works of W. M. Wheeler (1910), A. Forel (1928), B. Hölldobler and E. O. Wilson (1990), Luc Passera and Serge Aron (2005), Mark W. Moffett (2010).

    A special case of how dangerous can be this misunderstanding happened in the XIX century, when several authors justified human slavery making use of the discoveries of Pierre Huber. See, for example, these two books:
    —Cobb, Thomas R. R. 1858. An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America. Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson & Co.
    —Seabury, Samuel. 1861. American Slavery Distinguished from the Slavery of the English Theorists and justified by the Law of Nature. Masson Brothers: New York.

    (Some time ago I wrote on this matter in the entry “On ants, men and slaves” of my Spanish blog: http://historiasdehormigas.blogspot.com/2010/03/sobre-hormigas-hombres-y-esclavos.html).

  4. Communicating scientific facts and principles to a lay audience is one of the most difficult things, but it is vitally important. People who do it well are scarce. By using an analogy that many understand, a world previously unknown to the reader opens up. Using the word “slave” doesn’t condone slavery. A word is just a word.

    But Americans in particular have a fear of words. For example, the person who was a janitor became a sanitation engineer, so the person who was an engineer had to become a professional engineer. Soon nobody can figure out what anyone does based on his job description. This is silly.

    Likewise, if you use an alternative word for ant slavery that few people know, believe me, they won’t look it up, link or no link. No one will know what you’re talking about. But paint a picture in the reader’s mind with words he understands and you’ve given him a gift. Use only words he doesn’t understand and he clicks until he finds something interesting.

    In my opinion, our schools lose young people to other interests because of a lack of inspired teaching. A great teacher thinks of ways to communicate that can reach the students and analogy is a perfect tool.

    BTW, I knew nothing about ant “slavery” when I started to read this and now I do . . . and I don’t even like ants. How cool is that?

  5. Let me know when many of you are finished insulting your audience…….

    [ crickets…..]

    This is very simple. Call them slave-making ants or whatever you like. I guarantee you that most people will understand that ants are NOT people and that all slaves or slave-holders are not alike. For that matter, slave taking ants are not all alike. Some people may misunderstand but some people will ALWAYS misunderstand or misuse concepts and nothing you do will change that. Stupidity is like hydrogen, but do we always appeal to the least common denominator ?

    “Americans in particular have a fear of words.” Bullcrap ! Does that mean ALL, MOST, MANY, A FEW or 6.3 +- .22 ? You have any data on this particular assertion ? Give.me.a.break.Rusty. Inspire me – rid yourself of easy generalities and provide yourself with a brief introduction to normal distributions in populations. Good teachers are a dime a dozen but they rarely stay that way. Schools that encourage/allow good teaching are unfortunately outliers on the distributional tail.

  6. Not all humans bred their slaves. In Muslim countries African slaves were routinely castrated. Since Islam prohibits castration, Muslim slave trades usually hired Christian priests to do the surgery. Also, there are known cases of small numbers of Muslims settling in Africa, multiplying and then enslaving the natives. Just look up the history of Zanzibar and Swahili culture in general.

    And, of course, I agree with Alex. That’s political correctness again. Does anybody justify slavery today by referring to slave-taking ants? I don’t think so.

  7. Just an additional point about the vernacular… the “slaves” are not the same species, so the human slavery parallel is not really appropriate. I’m not really sure what the best parallel is, quite frankly, because it is a rather unique biological phenomenon. I still like calling it “dulosis” and using the common term “slave-making ants” for general usage as it is something that people can understand readily. As a professor, I am extremely sensitive to how words can affect students, but I think in this case using the term “piracy” is wrong as it doesn’t provide the proper metaphor for what is going. And the idea that “slave-making ants” will keep students away or somehow be co-opted to justify human slavery is way off the mark.

  8. Joshua: the ant “slaves” are not the same species, but they are closely related to their “masters”. It is more than likely that slave-taking evolved within the species, and only later lead to its differentiation.
    BTW, Caucasian people of the West and the Middle East are a different subspecies from Africans, and would probably be classified as a separate species under the so-called “Phylogenetic Species Concept” if anybody had the nerve. (Just for the record, I don’t think PSC is a good idea). Was there ever a possibility of them evolving into different species if slavery was maintained? I don’t know.

    1. Vladimir,
      Your comparison misses the mark and, by the way, I happen to know a little bit about Polyergus and Formica (I’ve been studying their natural histories for years here in Florida). They are closely related, but do not interbreed. Nor do other Formica that are temporary social parasites (not obligate) and perhaps even more closely related to their hosts.

      My point about “slavery” (the human version) being a poor metaphor for dulosis still stands. Yet it is still a very effective way of initially describing the phenomenon as others have pointed out. To differentiate the two, as a very rough comparison I would ask, do we enslave chimpanzees or gorillas by stealing their babies and having them build our houses, raise our children, and gather some of our food? No we do not. Humans enslave other humans. Further, the evolution of dulosis and social parasitism in eusocial insects should also not be compared to evolution among primates as there is no evidence of a parallel situation whatsoever.

    2. humans have no biological subspecies nor races and have not for many hundreds of years.

      all so called phenotypical racial characteristics are represented by normal distributions without discontinuities required for identification / segregation into races.

      all human populations have interbred to a greater or lesser extent and certainly enough so that there no longer remain ANY isolated units where race formation can occur today.

      Sorry bubba, no human subspecies for you !!

      1. BioBob

        Human subspecies were described by Linnaeus, and no formal review has ever been published, so technically they still stand.

        There are plenty of discontinuities, and some assortative mating not only between races, but even between ethnic groups. Of course, usually races and ethnic groups are separated by hybridization zones, but it’s the same with most animal subspecies and even some closely related species if they are not allopatric. Look up Italian sparrow. If we consistently used the same standards for humans as we do for other mammals, we would have to recognize not just 4 subspecies like Linnaeus did, but a few dozen. Of course, as you’ve noticed, some are in danger of going extinct in pure form due to recent introductions, but the same situation exists in many other species – look up common pheasant, for example.

        And, of course, many human populations on islands 100% qualify for full species status under phylogenetic species concept. Some, like the natives of the Andamans, don’t interbreed with outsiders even now.

        1. LOL

          Keep up with the jokes… you have a promising career in comedy, hair-splitting or eugenics.

          At the current rate of genome sequencing, most of the world populations will have been analyzed, quantified and statistically analyzed. Where will your early 20th century concepts be then ?

          I recommend a vacation to the Andaman Islands for you. Population genetics is like climate – black swan events are certain over the long term.

        2. BioBob,
          If you expect genome sequencing to have much effect on subspecific systematics of humans, perhaps you should start with the basics. Why don’t you go to Wiki and find out what “suspecies” means?

  9. I thought about this a lot in writing my book, and ended up with kind of a weasely solution (or is that an insult to mustelids?): I acknowledged the controversy and then used whichever term the original author had used. The idea that the way we talk about animal behavior influences how we see it, and the human behavior that may seem similar, is one I’m very interested in, and I don’t think there is an easy solution.
    But Joan will have something to say here, I suspect; I’ll email her and suggest she weigh in. She says that she gets TONS of people asking her about human slavery when she talks about the ants.

  10. I wish I could say I found something useful in the discussion above, but except for Marlene’s bon mot about mustelids, it was all too drearily familiar, especially the cultural cringing.

    I wonder how many of you know the origin of the word ‘native’? According to the OED it comes from the Latin ‘nativus’ – a term for someone born into slavery – I suppose to differentiate from one taken in war or a slave raid or from a judicial sentence. So, is ‘native plant’ and offensive term?

    Just for the sake of argument, I’ll ignore reality and say that clarity should be the most important goal of scientific communication. If you only want to communicate with a few other specialists, then by all means use jargon (but jargon does tend to the polyglot – each specialist likes to invent their own). If you want to communicate your science to a larger audience, then use the words you think will get across to them.

  11. Joshua,
    I know that ants do not interbreed with their slaves. But not all humans interbreed with their slaves, either. Studies of African-American genetics, for example, have shown that in slavery era interbreeding was very limited. The Norse never interbred with their slaves. In slavery-based societies of ancient Yunnan interbreeding was strictly prohibited. I think it’s not a defying point.

    It seems to me that abandoning a good descriptive term out of political correctness would be a dangerous precedent. Next someone will demand dropping the term “cheating” from behavioral studies out of fear that animal analogy could be used to justify immoral behavior. If you use such logic, a long line of terms would have to be abandoned: cannibalism, infanticide, polygamy… isn’t it Orwellian to the extreme?

  12. OK, if slavery doesn’t seem like a word worth worrying about, what about calling something animals do “rape”? What about “prostitution”? What about referring to “gay” animals? All of this is prevalent, or used to be, and I think it makes people assume that the behaviors are far too similar in humans and non-humans than they might be. I don’t think that we behavioral ecologists mostly now talk about “apparent forced copulation” out of some wishy-washy political correctness. Infanticide seems fine, because it has a great operational definition, but notice we don’t refer to the perpetrators in, say, lions, as murderers, the way we would if a human performed the behavior.

    Like I said, I’m not necessarily prepared to go to the death over the word “slave-making” in ants, but I think it’s good to recognize a valid concern here.

    1. “Infanticide seems fine, because it has a great operational definition, but notice we don’t refer to the perpetrators in, say, lions, as murderers, the way we would if a human performed the behavior.”

      Funny you should bring this up, Marlene. While I’m ok with the term “slave-raiding ants” for a general common name, I am definitely uncomfortable with using “enslave” to refer to what the ants actually do. The active verb crosses too close to misleading anthropomorphization. Looking through my website, I tend to talk of parasites and hosts, but not of slaves and enslavers.

    2. Actually, “rape” and even “gang-rape” are very precise descriptive terms for forced extra-pair copulations in many species of ducks. Females evolved some amazing anatomical features to make it more difficult.

  13. It’s my impression that it’s mostly people who don’t come from a history of enslavement discussing this, so we are not quite the folks with ‘skin in the game’, if you will pardon the expression. I suspect that would make a difference

    Ant slavery was used during the civil war to rationalize slavery as “natural” and part of Gods Plan. In other words, this can reinforce the perception of a natural fallacy/is/ought issue. Jose brought this up in an earlier comment, and I want to reinforce that. I can’t tell you how shocking it was to read some of those earlier documents, although it certainly does tell you how far from human the writers thought of their slave captives.

    I do find using the term slavery squirm inducing, but like Alex, I don’t have a better solution for communicating with a lay audience; I also recognize those are the folks most likely to have issues with the term as well.

    Lastly, as a rape survivor, I STRONGLY OBJECT to using the words ‘rape’ and ‘gang rape’ to describe what happens to non humans. (for reasons I have articulated elsewhere http://membracid.wordpress.com/2007/05/01/its-not-rape-damn-it/ )
    I think it minimizes the mental/emotional trauma that rape survivors experience, and which have yet to be demonstrated in non-primates.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Bug Girl. I’ve got discussions happening in too many places on this topic- here’s what I wrote over at Google plus:

      “I can see Herbers’s point. There’s a difference between objectively knowing slavery is “bad and shameful”, and having a visceral emotional response to the word. Imagine instead Auschwitz ants, or Concentration Camp ants. Applying those terms to insects trivializes the words and seemingly makes light of the history in a way that I find violates a social norm.

      Slavery terminology lacks the raw emotional impact on we privileged white guys that it has on people with a more direct connection to human slavery. Herbers isn’t just making up a random politically correct position- she’s noting an actual, observed pedagogical problem stemming from the use of the slave analogy with African American students. Thus, it is a real issue that ought to be addressed. I’m just not sure how.

      1. I think I would have to agree that terms like prostitution and rape and murder seem to have little value when applied to animal behaviour other than to sensationalize it. ‘Auschwitz’ would be an especially bizarre usage. But if you want to abandon any word with unpleasant cultural connotations then you will soon be left with little to say. I think infanticide is also questionable, but I suppose the literal meaning of the word could be applied to male lions killing cubs and the like. However, to me ‘infanticide’ is this case is jargon that really doesn’t match the much broader range of human infanticidal behaviours very well and it would be better to describe what actually happens.

        I’m not sure why anyone should have a problem with using ‘slave-making ants’, though (‘slave-trading’ – as per Ed’s question – does that happen?). The term is descriptive and evocative and has been in use for a long time. It doesn’t make me squirm, but (sorry Joshua) dulosis does. Perhaps if I worked on ants I would feel differently – but then I would know the jargon.

        Slavery hasn’t been legal in the United States for almost 150 years, which is well beyond any living memory. But considering how common and prevalent human slavery has been throughout all but recent recorded history, it is quite likely that all of us at one time or another had ancestors who were slaves. Conversely, most of us, irrespective of race, probably had ancestors who were slavers. That is the historical reality and patronizing students of one race because some of their ancestors were more recently slaves than people of another race does not seem to do them any service.

    2. bug_girl, sorry about your experience. But duck rapes are often extremely violent. Females go out of their way trying to avoid them, and are very obviously severely stressed. There is no physical trauma, but psychological stress is so severe that it affects body mass and even the timing of moult.

      1. But still, what do you get out of using the word “rape” that you don’t get out of “forced copulation”? The term as it’s used for humans has particular connotations that are more restrictive. No one is arguing that a similar behavior occurs in animals, but why not just use a more general term? I’m with Bug Girl.

      2. raptorialforetarsi

        I don’t get your point. Stress in ducks is not the same thing as mental/emotional trauma in humans. In humans, rape dosn’t have to bee “extremly violent” at all, so that this is involved in causing the stress in ducks should speak against your case, not for it.

        1. How do you know that it’s not the same thing? The null hypothesis should be that it is. No duck has ever described its emotions.

          When I was a 9 yr-old kid, I once got mugged by a bunch of drunken grown-ups. Had to spend a week in a hospital, and was severely stressed, to put it mildly. Still, I don’t think I must object to the use of words like “mugging” or “robbing” in descriptions of skua and frigatebird behavior, even though no tern victim has ever been hospitalized, and there is no direct proof that the terns are stressed.

          I think these are minute details. The verb describes the action, not the effect it has on the victim.

      3. To reply to your comment below Vladimir (which for some reason doesn’t have a reply option?)–I find it really interesting that you are willing to accept that mugging is unacceptable because *you have been mugged* and your emotional experience doesn’t match that of an animal.

        So…can you see why rape victims feel strongly that it trivializes the human experience to use the same word? I managed a bird sanctuary for the last 4 years. I know from ducks.

        Yes, it’s stressful, But It’s Not The Same. We don’t KNOW that it is “psychological” stress. We don’t know jack about what goes on in ducky little heads in terms of cognition.
        It could very well be physiological, since I can produce the same results by manhandling a duck. (no pun intended, but seems an appropriate term at the moment).

        When you use this term, you expose students and rape survivors to the memory of their experience; the reminder of the prevalence of rape in our rape culture; and the evidence that society doesn’t really give a shit and fosters rape culture.

        Your reasoning that “rape has fewer letters” is pretty lame, in that context, frankly.

        http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html

        1. Bug Girl:
          Sorry, I have no idea how to make Reply option.

          You got me completely wrong. I was saying that I find the term “mugging” 100% appropriate, no matter what my personal experience was like.

          My life was a bit more adventurous than most. If I tried to use my personal experiences to censure zoological terminology, the only term I would be able to use would be “photosynthesis”.

  14. Understanding that words evoke complex meanings, and that the complexities mean different things to different people does not mean people fear words.

  15. This is a fascinating interchange, because it includes scientists as well as those who seek to understand science. As best I can tell, however, there are no comments from those who study language itself.

    When I wrote my articles, I consulted broadly with linguists, students of rhetoric, and sociologists. These scholars think in very different ways than do scientists, and they spend a lot of time pondering the impact of words — not just for communicating but for their emotional impact. Scientists don’t often think about the emotional impact of the words they use, which is why I wrote the article.I admit we Americans may be hypersensitive to issues of race and ethnicity, but when I read a letter from Darwin, who described the captive ants as “little niggers” I felt it in the solar plexus.

    The response to my articles has been interesting. I received lots of very positive encouragement from historians, sociologists, and students of language. I received at best silence from my myrmecological colleagues, and the exchange on Notes from Underground is primarily dismissive. As best I can tell, only my own students have adopted the pirate metaphor, which disheartens me a bit.

    I give quite a few talks about these amazing ants, and I can attest that since I started calling them pirate ants I have received NO QUESTIONS AT ALL querying whether the ant behavior has relevance to human institutions (perhaps because I end with a picture of Captain Jack Sparrow, which elicits laughter). By contrast, use of the slavery metaphor in public talks nearly always elicited a question about analogy to the human institution of slavery. Thus the simply substitution of a relatively unloaded metaphor for a highly loaded one appears to have broken that tricky connection in people’s minds. That’s a good thing!

    Thanks to all who have weighed in on this discussion.

    1. I’m very pleased you’ve read our discussion and stopped in to comment, Joan!

      Seems to me some commentators here miss the point that your proposed change is not based on theoretical concerns about the linguistics, but on your real-world experience that communication using the existing slavery framework is less effective than with a less baggage-laden analogy. You’re arguing from an empirical position, and that’s rather hard to beat.

      Personally, though, I just don’t like the pirate analogy for the reasons given above. I can see some logic for calling them kidnapper ants, as that’s at least as accurate as slave-raiding ants. I’m going to have to think about this, as I’m currently writing an ant book (early stages!) that covers social parasitism.

  16. raptorialforetarsi

    Thoght I could give account for experiences in another language than english:

    In swedish, I use the term meaning “enslavment” when describing cleptergy to non-myrmecologist, especially as the swedish common names for some of the fusca-group species is litterary translating to “black slave-ant”, “red slave-ant”, “bigger slave-ant” etc.

    And, I find that it is quite often causing some confusing as people often think the analogy extends to the “slaves” being “locked up” by the “slavemakers” and forced to work, as well as missing out on them being different species.

    On the other hand, the common names for the native species performing cleptergy does not translates to slave-maker ants, but to “robber”/”outlaw” ants:
    Formica sanguinea = “Blodröd rövarmyra” = “Blood-red robber-ant and Harpagoxenus sublaevis = “Rostbrun rövarmyra” = Rust-brown robber-ant
    (Polyergus is Amazon ant in swedish as well)

    The German common-names follow this pattern as well (guess the Swedish is built on them) with “Sklavenameise” and “Raubameisen”.

    Now, “rövare”/”räuber” does not have any exact translation in english (I belive?), but “stråtrövare” translates to highwayman and “sjörövare” to… pirate!
    Can’t say I ever experienced much confusion arising from this the way Alex worries about.

    So in conclusion – Even though I use it, it think another word would be better than “slavery”, but then you should start with changing the “slave ants”-common names to something else (generaly I think it is fitting with a name that reffers to some of their own characters insted of their function to another species) and based on the related word in swedish and german, i do not se the problems with “pirate”.

  17. Oh for crying out loud. Is there anywhere first-world college grad postmodernists do not intrude and attempt to force their worldview on everyone else?

    The English language does not belong to anyone. Feel free to run amok with obfuscatory political correctness, but you have (thankfully) about as much chance to impose your ideology on the world as you have to tell water to flow uphill. Water seeks the path of least resistance, and so does language as a means for people to communicate.

    There are slave hard drives, slave cylinders, consensual master-slave relationships, and slave ants.

    And, there is the odious practice of human slavery. Human beings are capable of distinguishing between metaphor and reality, and tend to resist an Academy of Language approach, particularly by self-appointed linguistic police with an ideological ax to grind.

    Typically, folks who spend all their time telling others in online forums what words to use, spend little time actually combatting real phenomena such as human slavery in the real world. We see this happening now with Occupy Wall St., where the “General Assemblies” waste more time agonizing about whether to use gender pronouns than they do coming up with constructive solutions to the problems they protest.

    I wish more natural scientists would fight this crap and stop giving in to a rigid postmodernist dogma that represents no one except those who scream it loudly in order to drown out all dissent.

    Sociology 101 students should not be dictating biological terminology.

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