A Rosacea by Any Other Name


Based on the nature of our bodies and the fact that many diabetics are diagnosed after exhibiting specific symptoms, I think it’s safe to say that diabetes is not just a label or category, but a disease with a distinct physical reality.

But labels are important these days; think of how much time the courts spend defining “disability,” “enemy combatant,” and “marriage.” So it seems appropriate to give some real consideration to what we’re calling this condition.

Are you a diabetic? Or do you have diabetes? Do you specify the type? Do you capitalize the “D”? Does it bother you if someone else does differently?

Personally, I don’t usually capitalize, unless I’m specifically announcing, title-like, that “I have Diabetes.” I find I have no particular preference between “I am a diabetic,” and “I have diabetes”– but the fact that either works seems strange to me. After all, it’s not every disease that you can either be or have: you can have cancer, but you wouldn’t say you are cancerous, and you might have hepatitis, but you wouldn’t be hepatastic.

Indeed, it seems to be a particular subset of diseases that can be either possessed nouns or adjectives:

  • I have asthma/I am asthmatic,
  • I have autism/I am autistic,
  • I have epilepsy/I am epileptic,
  • I have anorexia/I am anorexic,
  • and so on.

Oh. That’s right. I have a non-terminal, chronic illness. It’s part of who I am now, not just a passing possession. (Similarly, comparing Google results implies that in Spanish, the more permanent copular verb “ser” is used to say one is diabetic, rather than the more transient “estar”. Any Spanish speakers out there to confirm?)

But that raises a question- if you have gestational diabetes, would you be considered a diabetic? What about Type II diabetes that you intend on beating back with diet and exercise?

And speaking of Types- when you identify as a diabetic, do you specify the Type? This question might prove controversial, especially as increasing obesity rates and increasing focus on healthcare costs turn the nation’s focus on Type II diabetes. I admit that I will- not initially, but perhaps after a raised eyebrow or confused glance- specify that I am a Type I diabetic, since I was nine, because of some still unclear combination of genetics and timing. (In other words, no, it’s not because I ate too much sugar as a kid.)

For the Type II diabetics out there, bearing the brunt of the nation’s attention, how do you identify yourself as a diabetic? And, if you’ll excuse my borrowing terminology from another can of worms, is Type II diabetes something you are “born with,” or is it a “lifestyle choice”?

And then it’s the end of the day and I realize,  lost between all these questions of label and term, I’ve neglected to monitor my blood sugar. And yes, the simple fact of the matter is, my blood by any other name gets just as sweet.

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Dr. Margaret A. Morris
12 years ago

Off topic, perhaps, but language is fun: my best guess as to Philippines vs. Filipino, based on a combination of Wikipedia and personal historical knowledge, is: The Philippines as we know them were named by Spanish explorers around 1542. The given Spanish name for the set of islands came from King Philip of Spain– in Spanish, then, the name was Las Islas Filipinas. Translated into English way back when, this was rendered as the Philippine Islands, and eventually the Philippines. The question is: why did the Spanish-based (that is, no ph-) people name, Filipino, come through with an F instead of… Read more »

Jessica Apple
12 years ago

Such an interesting point about the possessed nouns (nouns with demons inside of them???) and adjectives.  As an editor I’ve been trying to establish a set of rules re how to write the kinds of diabetes on this site.  I haven’t been very successful, and I don’t know if there is one correct way.  My take on it is not to capitalize the d in diabetes or diabetic, not to capitalize the t in type, and to use 1 and 2, rather than I and II.  Is anyone aware of any official guidelines?  Also, here’s a question I’ve had for… Read more »

12 years ago

Over the last couple of years, I have amended my announcement of “I have diabetes” to “I have type 1 diabetes.” Typically, I follow this statement quickly with a question, namely, “Do you know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes? I really started making this distinction after several bad experiences in doctors’ offices. Fewer and fewer nurses and doctors even ask whether it is type 1 or 2, and I haven’t met a nurse in a long time who actually knew the difference. It is exhausting, but this is the best way I’ve come up with to… Read more »

Allison Blass
12 years ago

At this point in my life, with all the confusion out there, I go out of my way to say, “I have type 1 diabetes.” I like to say that because I want people to get, without me having to directly explain, that there is not just “diabetes” but “types.” It’s a small way to help when I don’t have time to go into detail.

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