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Many countries divided by a common language

You might think that since most of the families involved with F.E.A.S.T. share a fluency in the English language that we’d all understand one another quite easily, but we often find that we are “many countries divided by a common language,” to hilarious result. I am a writer first, and advocate second, but when I need to use my language skills to write about eating disorders I am constantly challenged.

The preferred term in one country can mean something quite different in another, and since online communications can’t be easily divided by country of receipt, we trip ourselves up regularly here. Imagine trying to write a blog post or a newsletter or press release avoiding anything that might land wrong somewhere.

The word “carer” is in standard use for the Australians among us, for example, describing a parent or caregiver responsible for a child or ill person. The same word means paid non-family caregiver in the UK. And in American English carer really doesn’t mean a thing, except someone who.. cares.

We run into trouble when we describe a parent’s offspring as well. Saying “son or daughter” every time we refer to the person with the eating disorder is cumbersome. This also fails to include those not identified with these binary genders.

“Parents” can refer to a lifelong relationship, but “child” and “children” can imply that the person is not yet an adult. We often speak of a parent’s “child,” meaning their offspring of any age, but it can be heard as a person under 18. The more neutral “person” is often heard as an adult, and rarely as a parent/child relationship. We have no term for someone’s offspring that doesn’t fix an age or a gender, and for a parent-oriented organization, that’s a headache.

“Loved one” as a description is fine, and works in some countries, but in others it is understood to only refer to those who are no longer living: a risky term in an international environment.

I know what you’re thinking: “how about kid?” But those of us over 40 well remember our English teachers rapping our knuckles for using that term for anything but a baby goat.

When writing to a parent community about eating disorders one often needs to say things like “Your child/offspring/person/son/daughter/patient will need” or “parents love their child/offspring/person/son/daughter/patient with an eating disorder.” Without a term to refer to that role, it’s a word salad every time.

Our countries all have different ways of delivering healthcare, and that language is tricky as well. We betray our origins when we say “provider” or “clinician” or “treatment professional”

We all agree, these days, that “Person First” language is better: “person with an eating disorder” is preferred over “anorexic” or “bulimic” or “binge eater.”

But what about the use of “sufferer” or “patient” — in a world of “service user” and “affected persons”?

Don’t get me started on “dietician” vs “nutritionist.” Or how to spell them. I just used the US spelling, and if you noticed that you see the problem: have I alienated you? Have I made you feel that we are an American organization or reminded you that I am only fluent in American English? We are global, however, our board of directors and volunteer pool spans at least 8 time zones. We have had whole meetings to find other ways to say “color/colour” “analyze/analyse” and even “globalization/globalisation!”

Even British English has two forms, so our mother tongue is not always clear either.

I have to note that concept of “expert by experience” is growing in use, but we will need time to all become experts by language as well!

What are your favorite language quandaries?

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