Person-First Language Police: Behind The Times
    By Kim Wombles | June 6th 2012 10:29 AM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Kim

    Instructor of English and psychology and mother to three on the autism spectrum.

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    Miss Wombles,

    1. Person first language. Learn about it. This is the first clue that indicates to me that you are not equipped to have this type of discussion. --part of a new comment on a two-year-old post

    The post, in itself, and the remainder of the person's comment aren't what's important here. Plenty of folks have tackled this issue of person-first language. Lydia of Autistic Hoya has done so several times. Stuart Duncan has covered it. I'm pretty sure there are few long-term bloggers in autism-land who haven't handled this issue.

    As part of my master's in psychology, APA strongly insisted on person-first language, which in a ninety-page thesis can get incredibly tedious. But even the APA has backed away from that insistence in its latest update.

    Although you should avoid labeling whenever possible, it is sometimes difficult to accurately account for the identity of your research population or individual participants without using language that can be read as biased. Making adjustments in how you use identifiers and other linguistic categories can improve the clarity of your writing and minimize the likelihood of offending your readers.

    In general, you should call people what they prefer to be called, especially when dealing with race and ethnicity. But sometimes the common conventions of language inadvertently contain biases towards certain populations - e.g. using "normal" in contrast to someone identified as "disabled." Therefore, you should be aware of how your choice of terminology may come across to your reader, particularly if they identify with the population in question. (Purdue OWL) --emphasis mine.

    It's a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of equality to refer to people by the terms they prefer. It's the height of rudeness and disrespect to force your own preferences on others and to insist, as this anonymous commenter has done, that one is "not equipped to have this type of discussion."  Firstly, it's an ad hom attack and offers no substance to the discussion at hand, which, let me point out, was a two-year-old article.

    Language choices should be respected. For example, my son has no desire to be identified as autistic or as a person with autism. He's Bobby. That's who he is. He wants no other label. Lily, on the other hand, gravitated to her Asperger's because she associates it with Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, and she is proud to be like him. Rosie has no preference and doesn't care. How I refer to my kids depends on what the situation is and what the other people in the conversation need to know.

    When I write an article on autism, I use autistic individuals and people with autism interchangeably. I have no personal preference. I am not autistic, so I shouldn't. I should respect what the majority seems to prefer, and when I'm dealing with individuals, I should use whatever those persons prefer.

    Trolling the internet to play language police on person-first language is nothing more than that: trolling, and it misses the main point of having meaningful discourse that allows for growth and understanding.


    I note that whomever it was did it anonymously as well. Further to apply his/her language to the comment "This is the first clue that indicates to me that you are not equipped to have this type of discussion."

    Is this the new Newspeak?
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    It's certainly similar. We seem to be as a culture less willing to allow differing opinions and the use of personally expressive language. Either that, or there's a small, but vocal and busy group of asshats wandering the web trying to intimidate people who hold different positions than them.
    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” --MLK, Jr.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...a small, but vocal and busy group of asshats wandering the web...
    Mundus vult decipi
    :-) Thanks for the link!
    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” --MLK, Jr.
    Hi Kim,

    Sorry to hear about your trouble with trolls.  They are always those who who have so little to do that they troll the internet making nasty ad hominem attacks. Don't let it get you down.

    I think newspeak  has infected the social science since before there was newspeak.  When i did an undergrad degree in psyc, we were not to call "those people" patients but "Clients"  in all fairness when you are dealing with those who are troubled with mental disorders it is difficult to use the "right" term. I think this is why the APA keeps changing its guidelines.

    I like your solution the refer to a person in the way he or she wants to be referred to. One of our senior scientists, a retired Professor, always gets referred to as professor or Doctor, to which he replys I'M RON.  so we all call him Dr. Ron as we have several Rons on the team. Perhaps i should have a word with HR regarding the hiring of so many rons... ;-)

    Personally I agree with Dr. Szasz, who wrote the myth of mental illness and other interesting books;  He stated that we should label the labelers not those with the problem. ie this guy is good working with neurotics you should go see him and not you are a neurotic.

    Me, i preferred to be labled crazy and not a depressive.  Using crazy i force people to confront your prejudice. 

    Good luck, and i look forward to your future posts on autism.

    Thanks, Georgie. 
    Yes, the APA seems to change its mind every time it turns around--the latest is the most streamlined--use the preferred language. I did my thesis on chronic pain--having to write persons with chronic pain rather than chronic pain patients may not have added words to it, but it added awkwardness -- especially given that anyone suffering with chronic pain would say if it's not under control it is the most important part--everything else is filtered through that pain.

    I like the idea of not labeling people themselves or allowing people to describe themselves. As I point out in my psyc classes when we get to abnormal psychology, a lot of the time, it's not the person with the problem who's troubled by it but the people around them.
    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” --MLK, Jr.