Monday, 19 December 2011

Mind your language – Oz Style!

Anyone who followed the recent debate about the actor Ricky Gervais’s use in tweets of the word ‘mong’ will be in no doubt that the terminology we use is under scrutiny everywhere, and people can be touched personally by terms even though they may have been given a new meaning by a new generation. It’s the same with diabetes – do you shudder at the word ‘diabetic’, shout aloud at the television when presenters talk about ‘non compliant patients’ or simply shrug your shoulders and say “they’re just words, get over it”?

Whatever your view, there are some strong feelings about language and diabetes. One in particular is that the language we use reflects the views we hold and these can slip over into how we treat people – for example in hospital, someone being referred to as ‘the diabetic in bed 5’, or in a clinic as ‘the patient’, suggests they are talking about objects rather than actual individuals. We once heard someone describe this experience in a clinic as “they might as well ask for the ‘next pancreas’ please”! 

Now Diabetes Australia have published ‘A new language for diabetes’, a position statement that aims to improve communications with and about people with diabetes. Its 10 summary recommendations include:

  • Avoid jargon
  • Avoid judgemental terms
  • Be holistic – don’t just consider the medical aspects
  • Focus on what’s achievable
  • Use language that is positive and supportive, and forward rather than backward-looking

Pretty straightforward stuff you might think, but for anyone remaining in any doubt, the report also includes some helpful examples to show exactly what words and expressions could be used as alternatives to those which don't. For example:

instead of:                                    use this:

diabetic/sufferer/patient         person living with diabetes
diabetes control                           diabetes management
failed to / failure                           has not, did not
blood testing                            self monitoring or checking

There’s nothing not to like about this document – with the possible exception of the sadness that it needs to exist at all. It seems such a shame that people need to be reminded of the very personal nature of diabetes and the efforts that people make day in day out to keep on top of a condition that most definitely does not keep to the ‘rules’ - as a lady with type 2 diabetes once put it to a health professional “I’m afraid my body hasn’t read your text book!”

We welcome this statement with open arms, particularly as it is so consistent with our own philosophy of personal, individual care and attention, which we apply to all our own writing and publications.

Our Australian colleagues have given an example to all other countries and we hope many others will adopt this idea. Diabetes Australia - in the plainest possible language - thank you!

The full statement is available to download FREE from the ‘SD Focus’ section of our website home page. For your copy, simply go to and log in or register and log in.

Diabetes Australia. A new language for diabetes: improving communications with and about people with diabetes.

How much does the language people use in relation to diabetes matter to you? We'd love to know, so feel free to share your thoughts in the discussion below…


  1. Very interesting. My daughter is diabetic. I am asthmatic. I would have no problem with someone saying about me 'the asthmatic in the bed over there' if they didn't know my name. It is a description only, it does not make it that that is who I am, it is a quick way of describing me. To me it is like a teacher talking to another teacher and trying to describe a certain child in their class if the name is not known. You would surely say the most obvious thing. If the child had blond hair you would say the blond one, or indeed the dark hair, however you cannot say the ginger one, as that could be seen as derogatory when infact it is just a description and not derogatory. If there is one child with diabetes in the class and one with asthma or even epilepsy that is the obvious description, the diabetic child, or the asthmatic child, to me it is the same as blond child, or the bigger child or the smallest boy.

    I asked my daughter recently what she thought and she too (aged 11 1/2 years old) had no problem with the word 'diabetic' and she too said it is just a description.

    I do have friends though who do mind so it really is each to their own but I have no problem at all as I don't get offended.

    Happy Christmas everyone and a happy and healthy New Year.

  2. Thanks Adrienne, it's really good to hear your thoughts. We're intrigued about your comment that describing a child's hair colour as 'blond' or 'dark' hair is ok, but not 'ginger'?

    Happy Christmas to you and yours, too!