The Power of Words

February 1, 2013

As an editor, words are my livelihood so it frustrates me when people don't realise the power that they have. 

I've been pondering on the subject dealt with in this blog for a long time, ever since seeing Tim Minchin at the Hay Festival where he spoke about the power of words. He highlighted that it's not, in fact, a massive problem if children hear swear words. Much more dangerous is when they hear words (and I'll use his example) such as 'homosexuality' and 'sin' in the same sentence. As he said, a danger to the tune of 30,000 suicides a year. I’m hoping the statistic I’ve given here is right, but to be honest the number isn’t important. If language we use is affecting the lives of other people, we need to do something to change or challenge it. 

This is quite an extreme example, but what about the day-to-day language that we use? What affect can that have on beliefs, views and stereotypes? Some of the language that is used wrongly is obvious. 'Gay' is often used to denote something bad, negative or inferior and this has a massive impact on underlying perceptions of being gay is something other than normal, something different. Terms such as ‘spastic’ and ‘spazzing out’ are thankfully falling out of use (although can still be heard occasionally) and there is a campaign to stop the use of the word ‘retard’.


Image via Upworthy

Much more ingrained in our language and culture are negative mental health terms. They are in daily use, in the media, and in the books we read. An article on the BBC website recently got me thinking about the words we use as metaphors. The article referred to the casual use of words such as OCD and bipolar to describe personality traits rather than specific conditions. There were two arguments, the first being that using terms in this way contributes to misunderstanding of mental health issues, and trivializes them. On the other hand, it does bring them out in to the open.

Once you start looking, or listening out for them, misused ‘diagnoses’ are everywhere. Someone went ‘schizo’ when they were angry, keeping things in order is described as ‘OCD’ and ‘mental’ and ‘crazy’ are used to describe anything from a busy day at work to a big night out. In books I’ve noticed the same trend. Something is described as ‘like a madman’, somewhere as being ‘like a madhouse’ or someone as behaving like a ‘lunatic’. This casual use perpetuates stereotypes, for example, that someone with a mental health problem is dangerous and/or scary.

We need to challenge the normalisation of terms related to mental health. Fortunately the days of people being locked up in ‘lunatic asylums’ are long gone, but images still remain with phrases such as ‘like a loon’, ‘nutcase’, ‘deranged’ and ‘demented’. Think about it, when you use these terms in your everyday speech, what are you actually saying? Mental health is a hugely complex area and needs to be treated as such, and it’s more common than you might think. One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. It needs to be brought out in the open and discussed, but in a positive way, not a negative one.

So, next time you’re about to use a casual mental health reference, think again. Here are some helpful suggestions from ‘Time to Change’ a campaign to get people talking positively about mental health.



October 3, 2012

I've realised that I'm a bit useless at blogging regularly, so I'm going to try and make my blogs quick and regular, rather than long and months apart
A quick thought on pirates. Children love pirates. Books on pirates, films about pirates, dressing up as pirates, games about pirates, school topics about pirates... The trouble is, many pirate themed artifacts unwittingly reinforce negative stereotypes. Normally I campaign for more images of disabled people in books, but I do the opposite whe...
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In Praise of... Letterbox Library

May 14, 2012

As important as it is for inclusive books to exist, it’s just as important that parents, carers, teachers, librarians, and anyone else, can find them. This is where booksellers such as Letterbox Library are invaluable. Their infinite knowledge and rigorous testing standards mean that they supply an outstanding collection of inclusive books. 

Letterbox Library stock books that reflect our diverse community, are multicultural, feature different faith groups, refugees and migrants, disabled ch...

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London Book Fair 2012

April 25, 2012


Last week was the 41st annual London Book Fair, and the first time I’d ever spent the whole three days there.

Having spent the past couple of months trying to arrange meetings with publishers, I got the train to London on Monday morning, armed with the comfiest shoes I could find, blister plasters (just in case), paracetamol, business cards, lots of enthusiasm and a little trepidation; this would be my first London Book Fair as a fully fledged freelancer and I needed to make a good...

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What does the word ‘diversity’ mean to you?

March 16, 2012


The Oxford Dictionary of English defines ‘diversity’ as the state of being diverse and ‘diverse’ as showing a great deal of variety; very different.

Yet, even without a qualifier such as ‘cultural’ diversity, the word is often used in a non-diverse way, and limited to ethnicity. Very often diversity conferences and awards focus solely on heritage and ethnicity, therefore excluding the very people whom they should be including.

The same is true of the terms inclusion and e...

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Why are inclusive and diverse books so important?

January 6, 2012

I've read a number of articles and columns over the last month or so that have really reinforced my belief in what I am doing. Unfortunately, they have also made me despair a little about the society we live in, and how narrow minded some people can be.

I mentioned briefly in my last blog about a column by Charlie Condou where he bemoans the fact that children's books and television programmes don't feature 'differently shaped' families. That they are 'remarkably narrow in [their] definition o...
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December 12, 2011
Welcome to Without Exception. I'm passionate about what I do, so this blog will feature comments on things I read or things I'm doing in relation to inclusion or editing. 

I'm lucky, given that I've only just started working freelance, that I've been kept busy for most of November and December. Working as a teaching assistant for a couple of days a week also helps to keep me focused on children and what interests them. I've already used this direct experience to advise a publisher on a book th...

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