A House Divided

Diabetes Blog Week
Language and Diabetes - Wednesday 5/18 There is an old saying that states “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I'm willing to bet we've all disagreed with this at some point, and especially when it comes to diabetes. Many advocate for the importance of using non-stigmatizing, inclusive and non-judgmental language when speaking about or to people with diabetes. For some, they don't care, others care passionately. Where do you stand when it comes to “person with diabetes” versus “diabetic”, or “checking” blood sugar versus “testing”, or any of the tons of other examples? Let's explore the power of words, but please remember to keep things respectful.

"Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning."   -Maya Angelou

We are a house divided.

My daughter calls herself a 'diabetic,' and talks about the other 'diabetics' at school.  She thinks it's ridiculous that I avoid the word at all costs. 

In my mind, using the word 'diabetic' labels a person with a disease. Hearing or using the word makes me uncomfortable. 'Person with diabetes' makes the diabetes part more peripheral to the whole person, so that's what I use (and PWD for short).

Maybe it's my social work degree talking.  Labels are limiting, I've been taught.  There's more to a person than (insert any one personal characteristic here).  Labels separate us rather than bring us together.  Using one word to describe someone eliminates all of the other important characteristics which make up a whole, unique, interesting person.

I'm also concerned about the negative connotations of the word 'diabetic' in the popular media.  Do I want my kid grouped in with a collection of people the media (wrongly yet repeatedly) portrays as fat and lazy? You and I know those are all ridiculous, inaccurate depictions, but the general population does not.  Why go there unnecessarily?

Most importantly, I know my daughter is so much more than her diabetes. I fear that the 'diabetic' label will somehow supersede all of the other characteristics which make her her.

But yet, and not just to keep the peace, I'll admit that I can see my daughter's point.  A diabetic is something she is, just like she's a musician, a scholar, a reader, a baseball fan, a cook, a friend, a cousin, an actress and a teenager. 

Maybe, as long as it's not the only label, 'diabetic' is an okay self-describing word to use. She's not using it negatively or positively.  She's not using it exclusively of other descriptors.  She's using it matter-of-factly.

She uses it because words are, in the end, tools to convey information.   'Because I'm a diabetic, I got to eat a snack on the way back from the field trip.'  'All the diabetics got called to the office for a group picture to publicize the school's JDRF walk.'  'I'm following this one diabetic's Instagram account and it has hilarious memes on it.' 

Let's revisit the Maya Angelou quote I started with, "Words mean more than what is set down on paper.  It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning." 

I'm not going to start using the word 'diabetic.'  In my mouth, it sounds negative, limiting and simplistic.  My daughter will keep using it because to her, 'diabetic' is simply one of the many interesting things a person can be.  I will not be upset when she or others in the diabetes community use it because I am sure that, for them, it is conveying the meaning they intend.  Perhaps a house divided against itself can stand after all.

For more thoughts on why words do, or do not, matter, click here!


  1. This is awesome...it could easily have been a conversation between myself and my son. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. It's interesting because you are the second mom who has said she prefers person with diabetes where the child is fine with diabetic. Playing devil's advocate a little bit, if you do use diabetic to describe your child, you are helping to eradicate the negative connotations. I hate that the term diabetes is portrayed so negatively in the media, if we could change that, it would be so nice!

  3. While I am typically not bothered by the word, I understand what you mean. I am not yet sure what my son feels on this subject. He made a video about himself and stated that he 'has diabetes' and did not refer to himself as a diabetic. I cringe at people making fun of diabetes and him hearing that. There was a commercial on the radio here yesterday, a large comedian making fun of himself and using the word diabetes and death in the same sentence.. I cringed.. my son heard it.. I'm not sure he got the joke, but I did not find it funny.. I also wonder if the comedian himself is in pain. I would never want anyone - Type 1 or Type 2 to feel ashamed of their diabetes.

  4. Agreed labels are limiting... only good for boxes and files.


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