Mind your language

‘Living with’ is now a thing – usually followed by something nasty like Alzheimer’s

21 July 2018

9:00 AM

21 July 2018

9:00 AM

I’m not at all sure about the formula a person living with, followed by something unwelcome, such as Alzheimer’s disease, HIV or psoriasis. Perhaps I should describe myself as a person living with my husband.

The formula is recommended by many Aids organisations that follow the ‘terminology guidelines’ of the UN Programme on HIV/Aids. Instead of saying that someone is infected with HIV, we should call them a person living with HIV. It is meant to be less patronising and avoids suggesting someone is ‘powerless, with no control over his or her life’. No one should even be called a patient, but must be called a client, which is ‘more empowering’. Tell that to clients of Southern railways.

I was interested, though, by advice from the Alzheimer’s Society to try to avoid using person living with dementia too often, ‘as it can become almost another label’. I don’t know how formulae can avoid becoming labels for concepts, or ‘words’ as we call them.


The UN Aids guidelines condemn the terms drug addicts or drug abusers, preferring drug users. This seems to me to drain meaning away. I am a drug user, taking half an aspirin a day; I see in this no risk of being infected with HIV.

For good measure, the UN Aids people are against calling anyone a prostitute (because it ‘denotes value judgment’), preferring to label them as sex workers. To me this is to normalise prostitution, which is seldom an enviable career
choice.

No one living with psoriasis should be said to suffer from it, the official psoriasis community insists. Although someone with psoriasis might find herself suffering from mental ill-health, it is not good to say ‘She is suffering from mental illness’, according to a forum on the subject, but it is good to say: ‘She is living with a mental-health condition.’ Well, everyone lives with a mental-health condition, more or less benign. Can’t we call a spade a spade?

I sometimes fear that the pain in my knees will lead to my being crippled with arthritis. It will not cheer me to be told I must say that I am ‘a wheelchair user living with an arthritic condition’.

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