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CDC language police

The CDC Puts Itself in Charge of Language Too


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has come out with a guide for how we are all to speak and write. This can be found on the website titled, “Preferred Terms for Select Population Groups & Communities.” It is clear that this list is being read and distributed broadly – from medical institutions, hospitals, scientific communications, doctor’s offices, schools and universities, as well as other US Government agencies and institutes.

The CDC is the arm of the US Government tasked with disease control and prevention. It is not tasked with correcting wrong-speak.

Now, how exactly this guide fits in with the CDC mission is beyond me. Here is what the CDC lists as their mission on their website:

Do you read anything in the above that suggests that political correctness or correcting wrong-speak is part of the CDC mission? When did the CDC decide that they should take on the progressive left’s cause to reshape American language (oh, I used that “forbidden” word -”America”, which according to Stanford University- that is now verbotten). 

I dunno – Maybe there should be some sort of jail penalty for those of us who just can’t get it right. Or maybe, the government should just revoke social media “privileges” or stop people from being allowed to make payments via internet banking services, such as PayPal has done on occasion.

According to the website, the CDC has put together this very extensive “list” to protect people from “stigmatizing language.”

The problem is that the CDC evidently believes that there should be no social stigmas. That if one commits a crime, is in prison, is an addict, or is involved in behaviors that most find offensive or are illegal, it is not ok to use a term to directly describe that activity because societal judgment might hurt someone’s feelings.

So, the CDC is apparently afraid that we might hurt people’s feelings by using unapproved terms, and that this would lead to a threat to public health. This comes down to a new, popular opinion among mental health care professionals that “Harmful language ultimately increases stigma on the individual, which reduces one’s belief in the ability to change as well as their motivation to ask for help.” I went to Pubmed and tried to find data to support this hypothesis.

A quick review of Pubmed shows that it has over 1,300 publications with the keywords “stigmatizing language.” What I found was a lot of first-person stories and case studies about how healthcare professionals have either witnessed or been harmed by hurtful words. But what I didn’t find was clear evidence that calling someone an addict, prisoner, smoker, handicapped, underserved, rural and a vast myriad group of words that are now labelled as being inappropriate by the CDC actually do harm. Now, there must be studies out there? But I couldn’t actually find any, so I couldn’t evaluate the quality of the research. My basic search does imply that whatever evidence is out there isn’t very strong or it would be cited by a multitude of studies.

The article “Words Matter: Addiction and Stigmatizing Language: When it comes to addiction, stigmatizing language shouldn’t be the norm.” is a fairly typical example of the articles and studies I found. This article is in a large, mainstream magazine (Psychology Today) and is all about the feelings and beliefs of health care professionals about the harms of stigmatizing language. Yet, not a single study is cited in the article. 

So, let’s take a closer look at this list of words from the CDC website and compare them to real-life examples at the CDC. The question being: does the CDC use the forbidden words on their own list? The answer is an unequivocal ”yes,” they do and they use them a lot. Another case of “good for thee but not for me.” An internet search shows that their website and spokespeople have no issues using these words themselves. Seems to me what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Some examples. 

According to the CDC, we are no longer to use the word “smoker,” as it might offend those who smoke. 

Yet, here are images from the CDC website – using the word “smoker.” In fact, they even have a registered trademark for the phase:

So, please folks – don’t do like the CDC. The proper term is “people who smoke.” We wouldn’t want to offend smokers…

The CDC’s attempt to be non-judgmental for people who are addicted is also interesting. As they now categorize addiction as a disease, this means any reference to people who are addicted being called “addicted” is wrong-speak. For instance, instead of “relapse,” we should say “people who return to use.” Because relapse implies that the behavior is stigmatizing and we shouldn’t stigmatize disease.

But the CDC conflates the fact that addiction and addicts hurts society, families and individuals. Being an addict is not healthy and is harmful.

The CDC has even developed a special abbreviation for injectable drug addicts (I mean people who inject drugs):

As a society, as individuals, we have every right to judge those who hurt families, children, communities and themselves. Addicts hurt themselves and others. Let’s not sugarcoat it. Yes, there are addicts who are mentally ill, but it is often a self-inflicted wound. 

Many treatment programs and practitioners do insist that the addict confront themselves and the damages done by their addiction. This is not a malicious or bad thing. Not “sugarcoating” addiction is often part of the treatment and healing process. 

“Person who relapsed” versus “person who returned to use.” Why? Because we wouldn’t want to put any judgement on addiction? Where does their idiocy end?

Then of course, there are all those tried and true public health phrases that aren’t supposed to be used anymore.

Except the CDC uses these terms also. From the CDC website:

Another group of words what are now wrong-speak is how people who are incarcerated are to be discussed:

From the CDC Website:

The CDC believes that people who are incarcerated will be offended, and they might have their mental health status endangered by using terms such as inmate, prisoner, convict, ex-convict, criminal, parolee or detainee. 

Because we wouldn’t want someone detained or convicted of a murder to have their feelings hurt, would we?

So, calling Bryan Kohberger a “detainee” for the murder of four innocent college students would be considered a wrong-speak crime. Good to know.

There are many words that are truly offensive. We all know of them. None of those words made it to the CDC list. 

Please, go to the CDC website and read for yourself. Their list of unapproved versus approved words and phrases is quite remarkable. 

Where does this end?

Reposted from the author’s Substack

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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