About Meerkats

Back in the days when schools actually taught things, we learned that the word “that” as a pronoun applied to things and the pronoun “who” applied to persons. Such distinctions have long been lost in a world where thoughts on the Internet seldom surpass seven words. English, like all languages, changes over time and those of us who were taught “correct” usage decades ago are sometimes disturbed when we hear or read things from persons who can't seem to fathom the difference between “much” and “many”. (Please note the modern placement of the period in that last sentence. If you don't get it, don't worry, few will.)

RememberingAll of that said, there are many formerly “correct” usages that should be well past their prime. The word “whom”, for instance. Nowadays, and yes that is the correct word, anybody who actually uses the word “whom” in anything other than a salutation, sounds pretentious (as well, they should).

These thoughts came to me while I was reading an article about animal intelligence in  a magazine. My thoughts drifted back to my seventh grade English teacher. She was rather stern when insisting that when one referred to animals the correct pronoun was “that” while the pronoun “who” was reserved for humans. Sorry, Miss Gerten, you were wrong.

The distinction between “who” and “that” in regards to animals is based on assumptions that date back to a time long before Aesop humanized asses to entertain. But even Aesop might have agreed with Rene Descartes in the view that animals are dumb, emotionless beasts incapable of higher thought. Sorry, guys, you're both wrong.

Anybody with a dog already knows this. (Sorry, cat owners, cats really are dumb, useless beasts.) Dogs (ours, at least) have mood swings, clever thoughts, emotional attachment and the ability to plan ahead. In my view, this qualifies our late-dog Angie to be referred to – correctly – with the pronoun “who”. Take this example of animal behavior once thought:

Meerkats who feed on highly venomous scorpions. The young must be taught the skills of killing and eating scorpions without getting stung. They are, in effect, given step-by-step instructions in the process. It's somewhat like Miss Gerten's instruction regarding “who” and “that” except that unlike our modern kids, if the meerkats don't listen, the consequences are fatal.

(Sad Note: Our best friend Angie passed away July 2, 2020 after 14 years. She is sorely missed.)

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