Why Word Choice Matters to a Person with Diabetes

Read the following five sentences. Can you tell what’s wrong with them?

  1. She’s a diabetic.
  2. He’s testing his blood sugar right now.
  3. Her diabetes is out of control!
  4. Isn’t that a really bad blood sugar?
  5. He suffers from diabetes.

Have you figured it out?

The language in those five sentences is extremely negative. “Bad,” “out of control,” and “suffers” are obviously gloomy and cynical words to use when referring to diabetes – you don’t need to be a wordsmith make that connection immediately. But what’s wrong with “diabetic” or “testing”? It’s the connotations around those words. Calling someone with diabetes a “diabetic” is labeling them with the disease and removing the actual person from the equation. Saying that a person with diabetes is “testing” their blood sugar makes it sound so…clinical. It also implies that the person could pass or fail the so-called test, adding pressure and guilt to the situation.

Choose your words wisely.

In my real-world, full-time job, I’m an editor, so it gives me great pleasure to amend those above sentences into more positive, empowering language:

  1. She has diabetes.
  2. He’s checking his blood sugar right now.
  3. She’s having a tough time managing her diabetes.
  4. How do you handle high or low blood sugar?
  5. He lives with diabetes. (Or even better: He THRIVES with diabetes.)

Ah, much better. Never underestimate the power of words.