Does the language of diabetes matter? – by Helen May

I am intrigued by the way we all express ourselves slightly differently. A bouncy friend of mine seems to have a negative vocabulary: she described a wedding as “ruined” because it rained. I work with some American colleagues who are always very upbeat compared to the Brits: they would describe something as “awesome” whereas we would describe it as “not bad”. If someone else wrote half my blog, you would probably notice.

The language of diabetes

So, I was intrigued when I saw a report about the Language of Diabetes. It gives some great examples of positive language around diabetes:

  • It suggests we should describe someone as “a person with diabetes” rather than a diabetic because it avoids labelling someone as a disease.
  • It explains that “manage” is better to use than “control” because full control of diabetes is difficult to achieve so we should focus on something positive.
  • It talks about replacing “prevention” with “reducing the risk” because there is no guarantee a complication of diabetes can be avoided.
  • It recommends talking about ‘making a choice” rather than “cheating” when we divert from our planned diabetes management because it is a stronger language.

Does it matter?

If I was having a hypo, I don’t care what I am called as long as I have some dextrose. If I feel a consultant is complaining that I am having too many hypos, I don’t think I’d notice if I was told I need to “control” or “manage” my diabetes better. So does the language used matter?

I am an engineer so I would expect to receive accurate advice. So to be told that a stable blood glucose will prevent any complications is wrong and I would prefer to be more honestly told that the risks will be reduced. I know this from my own research so, if I was to remove my pedantic detector, it probably doesn’t matter what I am told: I understand what is meant.

It depends

Being a female engineer, I am sometimes treated different from my male colleagues when the focus is put on being female. In the context of work, I am first and foremost an engineer. When I am buying new clothes, I am first and foremost a woman.

Is it the same with diabetes? When I go to my annual diabetes review, I am there as someone with diabetes: a diabetic: but, when I am in a restaurant, my diabetes should make no difference.

Being aware

I try to be sensitive with what language I use when I discuss diabetes. I try to use the term “people with diabetes” even though it is a bit of a mouthful; I consider myself “living” with diabetes rather than “coping” with it; and I “have” diabetes” rather than “suffer” from it. Some may think I am too sensitive: they hear and read what they want and need: but others may consider my language too flippant when I write about “cheating” and taking my pump off while swimming.

Hopefully, awareness stops me offending people. But should we have a set of guidelines on the language we should and shouldn’t use around diabetes? Or is awareness enough?


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