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August 28, 2016
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When Do Words Offend?

The first time I heard the word "n-----", my father used it to classify a dark-skinned classmate of mine. At that time, different communities would call people who looked like her "colored" or whatever their lanugage's word was for "black". One of my upper grade school teachers told us that in the Southern US, that now-forbidden word was used commonly without any denigration attached to it, just as one might refer to himself as "blue-eyed" or "Christian".


Times have changed.


For many of us, the word "diabetic", when used as a noun or when used to describe a person living with insulin-production and -utilization issues is just as offensive. Polls on this site, and on dLife TV, have shown that we, as a community, are mixed on whether we would prefer to be called "diabetics" or "persons with diabetes", as well as whether the "d" descriptor may be used applied to a person as a noun ("a diabetic") as well as an adjective ("the diabetic patient").


More important than what we are called (and Aaron McGruder's characters use "the 'n'-word" to identify themselves all the time) are the cultural memes surrounding color, national origin, religion, and diabetes. Whatever our ethnic origins, those of us whose BMI is over 22 are labeled with the same character flaw that was once presupposed of all who shared my classmate's skin color: lazy. Too lazy to lose weight, work out, eat right (especially when plowing our way up from a low), and so on. One of the most difficult jobs of diabetes advocacy organizations is to dispell those myths, and abolish those stereotypes.


For good or ill, our cultural memes describe excessive sweetness in terms of our shared metabolic insufficiency. Whether it's associating the consumption of sugar with the onset of diabetes, or describing something very sweet in terms of its perceived potential either to cause diabetes or to harm people with diabetes, these memes are pervasive. As they are a common form of verbal short-cut, I would hesitate to come down with the sledgehammer of "political correctness" (which I find much, much more offensive than the language it was designed to avoid) except that in the case of diabetes, that misinformation could, indeed, kill.


So, what do I do?


Should I take public offense when someone describes an icing recipe as "'put you into a diabetic coma' sweet", or just let it pass? If I take offense, how should I word that offense to show that I have nothing against the poster, but against the potential misinformation? And would that be in itself considered a flame in a forum dedicated to cake art (including a lot of icing recipes)?


It's something we all need to consider.

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