The language of information: obscuring choice

language wordleThere are a number of reasons that I am passionate about language, and I have written about this frequently.  The first article I ever wrote in my Thinking Outside the Box column for The Practising Midwife was called The words we use and during the years in which I wrote that column I also riffed about terminology in Alternidurals, considered words for midwife in What’s in a name and speculated upon The language of the complicated before going on to reflect upon euphemisms, which I evidently had more than usual to say about because this grew into Euphemisms: good bad or ugly part 1 and Euphemisms: good bad or ugly part 2!

I was reminded of this while writing a post that is the first of a series created in order to offer signposts to resources relating to anti-D.  (If enough people find them useful I will add similar resources for other topics in the future…)  I was searching for good online overviews of the area, and becoming frustrated (as ever!) with the language that is used in some.

Some of the main things that struck me as problematic when I looked at the information available online on this topic are:

1) Language or terminology that obscures the existence of a choice

2) Language or terminology that scares

and

3) The inappropriate use of the absolute.

I think the third speaks for itself (and is dealt with a little in the aforementioned and upcoming post) and the second is covered in some of those articles linked above, so I will confine today’s rant to addressing the first of these, if I may.  I have often told midwives the story of how my single achievement after a number of days of research, writing and committee work (the latter of which I find an enormous challenge, as it involves sitting in a chair, not speaking too much AND following convention all at the same time!) was to secure the changing, throughout a rather key document relating to a particular area of practice, of the word ‘give’ to the word ‘offer’.  On one level, and particularly for someone who sees that we have SO far to go in regards to the information that is offered to women, this didn’t feel like much to show for my efforts.  On the other hand, and as those who hear my story often point out, this is quite a huge achievement because that single word changes so much.

I frequently encounter women who don’t realise that they even have choices in some areas, and it is no wonder when you consider just how often information is presented in the form of ‘you will be given this’ rather than ‘you will be offered this’.   Or, ‘you will need this’ rather than ‘you may wish to have this‘.  The vast, vast majority of women are always likely to want to have anti-D, and saying or writing offer instead of give is unlikely to change that.  But the act of highlighting that it is a choice acknowledges that women are independent agents who have the right to make decisions about their bodies.  Which, at least to my mind, is an idea that we should be promoting rather than trying, even unwittingly, to conceal.

Read more about this in depth in my book about anti-D which can be found here 🙂

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