Mind your language

November 28, 2008 at 9:46 pm (Bad Science, Media, Patrick Holford) (, )

When discussing potentially sensitive issues, I think it is important to try to use language that is not likely to offend those affected by the issues. Recently, I referred to people “suffering from” conditions, disorders or diseases in a post that mentioned (among other things) dyslexia and autism. It was pointed out to me in the comments section that “we don’t “suffer” from Autism, but from intolerance, prejudice and discrimination” – and I have read elsewhere the argument that

Suffering is not only a very personal experience, and highly subjective, it’s also extremely condescending to reduce people to a state of helpless passivity.

Which, I have to be honest, wasn’t something that had even occurred to me when I used the phrase. I think it’s easy enough to stumble even when taking care with your words, but some people seem simply not to care how offensive they are. I’m going to pick on two examples – Patrick Holford and the Mainstream Media. You might think I’m being vindictive in attacking these two targets yet again, but when they hand you this much ammo… it’s hard to know when to stop shooting.

From my revised Horizon post, I give you this: Here, Paul Hayward decides to label Joey Barton a violent sociopath and refers to NUFC fielding 12 players – ten “normal ones” and two Joey Bartons. The accompanying picture is captioned “headcase”. Nice.
“Nutter” is the chosen epithet of the Paisley Daily Express to describe a man who gave false statement to the police. Very sensitive. I am, of course, cherry-picking. But to be honest, it wasn’t hard to find these examples and there are surely many more. [In fact, the Paisley Daily Express has used the term “nutter” before, as have the Independent – and The Times. On a couple of occasions.]

Patrick Holford is but one man and cannot be expected to compete with the MSM. Even so, he has managed to call some children stupid and claim that some foods make them thicker and has also furnished us with this gem: Holford uses “crazy” as a diagnostic term for schizophrenic people. What the fuck was he thinking?

EDIT: The National Autistic Society has a guide to what to say and what not to say about autism. There is also a booklet for journalists – Guide To Disability PDF that, for one thing, specifically advises against using words such as “nutter” for someone with mental health problems. It is also recommended that journalists avoid using the term “crazy”. Pity there’s no guidance for media nutritionists.


  1. The Gonzo Girl said,

    He, thanks for quoting me and linking to Joels great post about this!

    I think Patrick Holford and all the other nutriwoo idiots really deserve to get the proverbial shit kicked out of them.
    Someone asked me in an e-mail, whether I’ve ever tried one of Jenny McCarthy’s, um, “expert health advice”.
    And Holford’s food for the brain.
    Why, oh why, is it always the phenominally stupid, who try to improve other peoples’ brains?

  2. gimpy said,

    Recently, I referred to people “suffering from” conditions, disorders or diseases in a post that mentioned (among other things) dyslexia and autism. It was pointed out to me in the comments section that “we don’t “suffer” from Autism,

    I think suffering as a result of….. would be fair usage of the term. A disability does not confer suffering, but a society that makes things more difficult for the disabled than the non-disabled has the potential to increase suffering amongst the disabled.

  3. jdc325 said,

    Gonzo Girl – have you heard about the film-in-progress “Saving a Lost Generation”? It looks at homeopathy and autism. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about it because it seems like such an ill-judged project. I think homeopath and filmmaker Carol Boyce is behind the project.

  4. The Gonzo Girl said,

    Yes, I laughed so hard, when I saw an excerpt.
    Her website reads like satire, it’s sooo bad…
    “Complementary medicine and homeopathy in particular is under increasing pressure to ‘prove’ itself efficacious.”
    No shit.
    The website’s here (mcarolboyce.com) That’s probably the woman, you mentioned, never heard of her, though.

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