Recently I found myself arguing, in the space of a few days, that “everybody is a patient” is nonsense, only some of us should be granted the special status of “a patient”, and that nobody should be calling anybody “a diabetic”. On the surface these might seem to be contrary positions, so I spent a lot of dog-walking time thinking about the differences, as a lowly engineer, untrained in sociology and critical theory. Here is my very clumsy interpretation.
I believe that it’s wrong to noun people by adjectives that inevitably form a partial description of them. It’s (usually) fine to apply the adjective – you can refer to me as diabetic, Scottish, short… but don’t call me “a diabetic”, “a Scot”, “a shortie”.
Ah, but… came the response on twitter… how come it’s OK to call someone ‘a nurse’, or ‘a student’ – we noun people descriptively all the time, don’t we?
A nurse is a person who engages in the activities of nursing – a person who nurses. A student studies. A fishmonger mongers fish. Nouning people based on the activities they engage in is quite different from nouning them based on a property or characteristic. Continue reading