In science fiction, one tends to see the same handful of words being thrown around, in which the writers 1) do not know the definitions of the words they are using and 2) attempt to misuse the words to prop up anthropocentrism, ableism, and speciesism, to try to alleviate guilt for needlessly harming fellow animals.
Let’s unpack these commonly misused words:
sentient – adj -able to perceive or feel things
This includes any beings who have nervous systems, ganglia, nerve nets, etc. This includes just about all fellow animals, with the possible exceptions of sponges, corals, anemones, and hydras.
Speciesists try to place a dividing line between various galactic anthropocentric races who mysteriously speak English and all other fellow animals, claiming other fellow animals can’t feel and perceive with their senses, ignoring their sensory organs (eyes, ears, etc) and reactions to sensory input, such as fleeing from danger, crying out, happy purrs, etc.
sapient – adj – 1) wise*, or attempting to appear wise, 2) relating to the human species ( Homo sapiens )
(*wise – adj – having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgment.)
Definition 1: Speciesists try to place a dividing line between various galactic anthropocentric races who mysteriously speak English and all other fellow animals, claiming other fellow animals can’t have experiences, learn, and show good judgement. There are plenty if YouTube videos showing cows operating farm doors and watering spigots, dogs teaching puppies how to use steps, crows using tools (including a frisbee as a makeshift sled on a roof), bees teaching one another, etc. The inability to speak English (or some other human language) is not a justification to harm someone (ableism) or assume they have no intelligence. Some humans can also be mute, for varying reasons, and there are also varying levels of intelligence and talents among humans.
Definition #2: Non-human galactic beings who mysteriously speak English are often mislabeled sapient, but the definition should technically not be used to describe any beings other than humans and human hybrids– and still should not be used as a divider to treat others inequitably– only as a racial description and nothing more. Due to definition #2, I avoid this word altogether due to its current speciesist connotations.
intelligent -adj- having or showing intelligence, especially of a high level
Same as definition #1 above.
speciesism – noun- the assumption of human animal superiority leading to the exploitation of other fellow animals
Speciesists, ironically, misuse the word as a stand-in for racism among various galactic anthropocentric races who mysteriously speak English. Speciesism applies to all fellow animals, not just English-speaking, humanoid beings. One who shakes hands with ET and also eats the bodies and reproductive secretions of other animals is still speciesist.
uninhabited – adj- (of a place) without inhabitants
Specieists misuse this word to represent only galactic anthropocentric races who mysteriously speak English. If birds, turtles, insects, and other fellow animals live in a place, then, the place is *not* uninhabited. Only barren islands or worlds devoid of all life are truly uninhabited.
Now that you know the inherent biases and misuses of these words, be on the lookout for them and don’t be fooled.