Thinking About a More Sensitive Approach to Language
I set out here to explore my dad’s journey with Parkinson’s disease in a literary format. I wanted to create a platform to talk about his challenges and victories in a safe and supportive way.
As a writer and content creator, I know how important language is. As 19th-century English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton noted, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Words have the power to poignantly depict emotions, events, and thoughts, and it’s a wonderful power to be able to use them. But it’s also possible to use them to cause harm. Twisting a phrase or misusing a word can create bias, sexism, or other consequences, intentionally or not. I want to find ways to start a conversation about supportive and sensitive language specifically related to Parkinson’s disease.
I recently learned that certain terms exist in a gray area, in that they might be acceptable to some, but not others. Some people might even find them hurtful.
For example, I often see the term “Parkie” used to describe Parkinson’s patients. My dad is a Parkinson’s patient, and he takes little offense to the way people who don’t have Parkinson’s describe his experience. But others may be more sensitive to these things.
A regular participant in the Parkinson’s News Forums recently corrected me by saying that “Parkie” can be interpreted as a very demeaning or hurtful term.
I’d perceived it to be playful and lighthearted. And I liked the idea of creating a noun to describe someone who struggles with Parkinson’s disease. But I didn’t think about the categorization of Parkinson’s patients as potentially demeaning or stigmatizing.
Yes, language is nuanced and can cause both positive and negative reactions. I’ve worked closely with amputees, veterans, and others who have overcome unimaginable circumstances. I’m no stranger to the idea that the way in which we communicate matters greatly. Using the wrong words can cause unnecessary harm, and I want to find ways to minimize it.
I’m curious to know how others navigate the nuances of language. Are there terms that are entirely unsuitable to use in the Parkinson’s world? Are some better than others? And what might we do to continue evolving toward more effective communication? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or at the Parkinson’s News Forums.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.