Feral. From the Latin fera, meaning a wild beast. The media have been having a field day recently, bringing this normally rather recherché word into unusual prominence. We hear about “feral youth”, rioters described as “feral rats”, the “rioting feral underclass”. I could go on and on. Apart from wondering whether or not it might be possible for commentators to think of their own ways of expressing their thoughts, rather than simply copying each other with lazy ease, I think this language reveals something deeper than its casual users realise.
The word feral is one that applies literally only to animals (and plants, but most probably don’t realise that) and to apply it to human beings is to suggest that those people are merely animals, too. By using it we draw a sharp and sneering distinction between us as civilised and them as animals.
We will not move far towards dealing with the very real problems the recent unrest reveals if we think about those who’ve rioted as being sub-human, and on the same level as troublesome cats in Rome, or pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Words frame our thinking, and using this kind of word betrays us.