A relative pointed out journalists are fond of saying, for example, Lady Gaga is “confined to a wheelchair,” as reported recently in the Huffington Post (UK).
But a wheelchair is far from confining for most folks with disabilities.
We need a prod about how our everyday talk reveals underlying prejudices.
Not all Dutch uncles are stingy and most blondes aren’t dumb.
This week I spoke about message framing at the Crime Victim Law Conference in Portland.
One participant bristled at the way a news-writer said a woman was assaulted by a masked man.
What’s wrong with that, I asked.
Journalists should instead report, “A masked man assaulted a woman.”
She said the re-wording focusses on the perpetrator rather than the victim.
It is a subtle difference, she admitted. In one case, your attention turns to the person who committed a crime.
In the other example, you focus on the woman as the subject of a crime.
Does it make a difference?
Hard to know without concrete evidence to show wording alone influences how we think.
Still, my colleague David Ritchie and I contend that some phrases slip past our cognitive scrutiny.
And when messages slip under our radar, we pay little heed.
The result? We don’t question a phrase like “confined to a wheelchair.”
And we should question the grammar.
Picture of Prof. Charles Xavier from Marvel Comics at http://www.just-marvel-x-men.com/image-files/marvel-encyclopedia-prof-x-1-50k.jpg