I was checking my sugar before eating when the guy sitting next to me in the cafeteria said, “Oh, you’re uh, diabetic, right?” He seemed happy that he had remembered the right word and I was pleased that he had an idea of why I was making myself bleed in public. But I was a bit puzzled; it was like he had used the wrong words. Why was I reacting in that way to his question?
After giving it a little thought, I realized it was because he had used the word “diabetic” as a noun.
When I discuss my diabetes with others (something I do often), I almost always say that I have diabetes. I haven’t consciously decided to use this terminology; it’s just the way I naturally talk about my condition. A noun is a word that defines and describes a person, a place, or a thing. Diabetes doesn’t define me.
I will use the word “diabetic,” but it’s always an adjective, much like the other adjectives I use to describe myself–words like short, hyper, talkative, nerdy, or brunette. Adjectives describe things rather than define them. Diabetic is an adjective that describes me, not a noun that defines me.
I realize that I’m being semantically picky here. I may be an English teacher, but I don’t demand a high level of precision in everyday conversation; in fact, I think that constantly correcting someone’s verbal grammar or vocabulary choice is annoying. I’m also not completely opposed to using the word “diabetic” as a noun. It’s is more concise than “person with diabetes” and the acronym PWD is opaque to those who aren’t “in the know.” Diabetes has enough jargon already. Yet I find I rarely use the word “diabetic,” at least as a noun.
Because diabetes is something that I have, not something that I am.