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?