Fat, Demented, and Stupid

Offensive Words to Grab Attention and Block Progress

When words start spilling from the mouths of toddlers, parents get a thrill. The thrill turns to a bit of panic when an offensive word spills out. The toddler gets attention. Parents find themselves on a long road of teaching by example. Offensive words certainly grab attention, but then they just get in the way.

In the Journal of Pediatric Urology, Christopher Cooper chose offensive words to grab attention and make a point about unintended consequences for some common elements of pediatric medicine. Antibiotics might cause obesity. Anticholinergics might cause dementia. Anesthesia might impair intellectual development. Thus his headline: “Fat, Demented, and Stupid.”

Shock Value, Plain Language, or Disrespect?

We hear people dismiss concerns about crude and offensive language. Some people have no use for carefully chosen, delicate words. They dismiss such language as politically correct gibberish. Without a doubt, speaking plainly has a very clear value.

But labeling people with offensive words like “fat” or “stupid” does nothing to make people think. It simply stirs emotions and shuts down rational dialogue. It’s an easy mistake to avoid. Just put people first. Don’t label them with impairments. That’s the whole point of people-first language.

To put it simply, shock value has no value. People will not remember anything but the shock of offensive language. Disrespect comes back to the people who hurl it. We need none of that.

Click here if you want to read Cooper’s paper.

An Unrecognized Legacy, Publication in the Journal of Pediatric Urology by Christopher Cooper

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June 30, 2017