Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crippled by language

G.P. Doctor Crippen, a Guardian columnist, makes some good points about how language can be used to define people by their illnesses in yesterday's G2 section. In his column he points out that adjectives used to describe medical conditions (e.g. "schizophrenic") can be problematic when applied as nouns to the people who have these conditions (e.g. "he is a schizophrenic").

He points out:

the thoughtless use of words may indicate an underlying iceberg of prejudice and
misunderstanding. I was taken to task a few days ago by a psychiatrist colleague
for using the word "schizophrenic" as a noun. "It is not a noun, and
schizophrenics are people," he said. Technically the psychiatrist is wrong. Like
"diabetic" and "asthmatic", schizophrenic was always meant to be an adjective,
but common usage has made it a noun.

It's the same with other adjectives as nouns too. We've discussed in class how people feel about adjectives used to label ethnic and other social groups (the blacks, the Asians, the disabled) and this seems to be part of the same issue. So, now we know that David Beckham has asthma, is he an asthmatic (noun)? Or should we say David Beckham is asthmatic (adjective)? Or perhaps, an excellent footballer and fashion icon who happens to excel despite his asthma?

Getting the Word Out 2022

WOTY (Word of the Year) Season is in full swing and the lists from the various dictionaries and organisations who produce them, along with t...