Do bugger off

T’ain’t the word that’s the problem:

Health campaigners are calling for an end to the use of the word leper, saying the language frequently used by politicians and others during the pandemic has made people with leprosy even more marginalised.

The metaphor of the socially outcast “leper” has been used often, whether in media reports on stigma against early Covid-19 patients or by politicians in Italy and Brazil complaining about being seen as “leper colonies”. Campaigners now want an end to the use of what they call the “L-word”.

“This type of language perpetuates a mindset against people still suffering,” said Mathias Duck, global advocacy manager at The Leprosy Mission, a British charity.

“People affected were already marginalised before the pandemic, and the pandemic has pushed leprosy even further down the priority list.”

So, let’s change the word we use. We’ll call it Hansen’s. Cool, so people that no one want’s to meet up with will swiftly become known as Hansen’s. Let’s call is mycobacterium leprae, folks will swiftly be known as Mikes for being socially toxic. We’ll then move on to calling is “oopsnosedropoff” and those we’d not piss on if on fire will be known as “oopsnosedropoffees”.

Because it’s not the word that matters, it’s the states. True, leprosy is much more mildly infectious than most believe but the association with isolation is there from history. So too is the idea that there are some we’d rather like to see diverted from polite company. The two ideas are going to be associated, whatever the word used, just because that’s the way humans work.

We can even test this – and no, I don;t know the answer, it is a real test – are the two associated in languages other than English? The disease and the social state? Then it’s not the word in use in English, is it?

15 thoughts on “Do bugger off”

  1. ’ This type of language perpetuates a mindset against people still suffering,” said Mathias Duck, global advocacy manager at The Leprosy Mission, a British charity.’

    Err….

  2. The Meissen Bison

    are the two associated in languages other than English?

    The figurative sense of “leper” is certainly found in languages other than English though some go with a different infectious disease, as e.g. French with scabies. German by contrast uses a figurative formulation (someone placed outside) to denote a sufferer.

    There are sound cultural reasons for this in predominantly christian countries because the NT abounds with references to leprosy.

    As far as Mr Duck’s whining is concerned, the last line gives the game away and typifies the sharp elbow tactics of today’s charities. I doubt whether Albert Schweitzer had a global advocacy manager at Lambarene.

  3. Surreptitious Evil

    Or, away from disease, from “Bennies” to “Stills” for the Falkland Islanders.

  4. global advocacy manager at The Leprosy Mission, a British charity

    That’s a non-job if ever there was one. What lepers want is treatment, not ‘advocacy’ from some 3rd sector oxygen thief.

  5. Sickness and death looms scarily large in the collective subconscious, because of course it would. Might even explain how easily the British learned to love health fascism (tho I believe a stronger motivation is that a lot of people have just gratefully given up their adult responsibilities and retreated to their socially distanced techno-gizmo wank caves).

    Take zombies for example (Barbara). Zombies can represent a lot of different things as George Romero and others proved. But they’re literally about fear of disease and decay – the shuffling, rotting, groaning ghoul who can corrupt and consume your flesh. Zombies are the horror film nightmare version of what lepers represented to medieval and ancient man, who was understandably terrified of infection.

    Stigma has Classical roots, meaning a mark of disgrace. In the days before anyone knew what a bacterium was, much less how to treat it, it was wise to make outcasts of people with serious infections diseases. That’s why it was shocking when Jesus Christ defied the law to heal the lepers.

    There’s no longer any need for a stigma against leprosy, but it’s possibly interesting to note that JC – a nice Jewish boy who didn’t have a Twitter account and didn’t even go to university – never said that people should try giving lepers fluffy new politically correct names such as “the fingerly challenged” or “the differently pleasant to look at”. Instead he commanded his disciples to heal them.

    Seems to me that the Lion of Judah is right and the Duck of Death is wrong. Compassion is not about massaging people’s amour propre or noisily demonstrating our imagined virtue. It’s about love daring us to care for the people on the edge of the night. Because we will all get there in time. Or as Freddie sagaciously put it:

    People on streets
    Ee da de da de
    People on streets
    Ee da de da de da de da

  6. The Meissen Bison

    politically correct names such as “the fingerly challenged”

    Bringing leprosy into the digital age.

  7. These people always point out a problem – but never put forth a solution.

    So we stop using ‘leper’ – what word do they think we should use to convey the same idea?

  8. “leprosy is much more mildly infectious than most believe ”

    Don’t tell us, tell Uncle Oswald.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *