A Weighty Issue: Enough with the O-Word.

(content warning: weight stigma, ableism, insulting medical terms in linked content)

A photo of a doctor’s scales.
A photo of a doctor’s scales.

Reading anything to do with weight and health is similar to reading twentieth-century articles about intellectual and developmental disabilities. Idiot. High-grade moron. Intellectually subnormal. Low-grade imbecile. Mental defectives. Feeble-minded. R*tarded, r*tardates. As a disability activist who focuses on intellectual and developmental disabilities, I find the parallels disturbing.

Why? One word keeps coming up, and it starts with an O and rhymes with fleece.

What’s the matter with the O-word?

It engenders disgust, loathing and judgement that even overweight does not. It comes from a Latin term meaning “having eaten to the point of fatness”—a behavioural judgement, not a neutral clinical term. Before it was a diagnostic term, it was an ordinary insult. It’s as neutral as gluttony. Even corpulence would be an improvement, since it focuses on someone’s size, rather than how they got there. (It’s still insulting, so I’m not advocating its use.)

In the medical literature, the O-word is used as blithely as feebleminded, mental defective and high-grade moron were. People use it ad nauseam without a thought—or if they do think about it, they double down, saying “doctors use it,” as though that absolves them of their responsibility to acknowledge others’ dignity. After all, they once referred to female hysteria and drapetomania.

I am focusing solely on abandoning the O-word in clinical practice, as well as health and wellness websites that refer to the clinical literature. Metabolic science is still in the idiot and mental defective era. We categorise people by their size in ways that are uncomfortably parallel to high-grade moron, use disparaging diagnostic terms, and use “the science” to justify what would be called bullying outside a doctor’s office. Research has shown that higher-weight people object to the O-word—especially Black people—even though clinicians continue to use it repeatedly in their articles. Although clinicians publishing scholarly articles may be following standard practice in their field, it still makes for painful reading.

Weight researchers have started moving toward person-first language, but this is only a Band-aid, just as person with mental r*tardation was back in the 1990s.

I don’t know the right approach to improving people’s metabolic health. But I do know that a field that continues to use pejoratives as diagnoses for the people it claims to support, even if they are shifting toward person-first language, has probably not advanced enough to find the right answers. That was the case with developmental disabilities in the twentieth century, and it’s the case now with weight and metabolism

Even for those who think that high weight is caused solely by unhealthy behaviour, this is no excuse. Medical history is littered with moral judgement disguised as concern for people’s health, moral defective chief among them. Also, there’s precedent in medicine for developing more sensitive terms in behavioural health: people with substance-use disorder, rather than drunks or junkies. Most practitioners would blanch at applying a term like drunk or junkie in a clinical setting—so why persist in using its modern-day equivalent in metabolic science or endocrinology? Instead of supporting people, we are diagnosing them as food junkies.

What other names should we use?

Radicals in the body-positive and fat-acceptance movements prefer fat, but most higher-weight people continue to avoid it. Fat is analogous to crip: widespread in radical activist circles, but rejected by people outside the movement. For that reason, I don’t advocate the use of fat in clinical settings. Instead, I recommend using an expression like higher-weight.

Even if you consider a high Body Mass Index a medical condition, then you are saying that someone has a disability or chronic illness. By that measure, the continued use of the O-word is a kind of ableism, just as the R-word, moron and mental defective were before it. If you want to use a clinical term to describe high weight and medical conditions that are often correlated with it, why not use metabolic syndrome? At the very least, it focuses on bodily processes (like diabetes or lower-back pain) and doesn’t have the whiff of a playground taunt.

How can we move forward?

The problems with the O-word go beyond the label itself. Social justice isn’t reducible to words—after all, there are people who use all the right nomenclature and still manage to be jerks. For example, I’ve seen a lot of pro-Russian or anti-Ukraine commentators using Kyiv, preferred by many Ukrainians, rather than the Russian-derived Kiev (CW: war coverage).

The O-word is harmful because it is an insult repurposed to be a medical term. It is more like junkies or gluttons than diabetics or people with cerebral palsy. It is used to justify “care” that fails to acknowledge people’s human dignity. It is used to blame and shame. Even as people come to understand the complexities of metabolic health, they continue to use a term that places all the blame on the individual rather than the psychological, social, material, cultural and interpersonal factors that affect their health. It is particularly jarring to see the O-word used in articles that decry weight stigma: it is similar to a substance-use specialist saying that “we should fight stigma against junkies,” or a clinical psychologist saying that “we must acknowledge the dignity of mental defectives.” If you want to avoid stigmatising people with substance-use disorders, you don’t call them junkies. If you want to acknowledge the dignity of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, you don’t call them mental defectives. And if you want to end weight stigma, you shouldn’t use the O-word.

Weight stigma is detrimental to people’s mental health—and that stress can lead to adverse health outcomes. Ironically, stress can lead to the very thing that many clinicians want to avoid: weight gain. Because they’ve come to acknowledge the harmful effects of weight stigma, practitioners are starting to recommend health-promoting habits, like exercise and eating nutritious foods, rather than focusing on weight loss.

Clinicians are starting to make steps toward more compassionate ways to understand weight and metabolic health, and it’s time to take another step. Medicine abandoned mental defective, r*tarded, and feebleminded and relegated them to the terms of abuse that they always were. It’s time to do the same with the O-word.

The shape of my (non-Marxist) leftism

(ca. 2019)

The ideas of Karl Marx and his ideological descendants are not and should not be the sole foundation for left-wing political thought. They’re certainly not the sole foundation of mine. I am not a Marxist. I have never been a Marxist. This is not the same as saying that Marx was wholly wrong; I think his ideas about worker alienation, for example, are useful in describing people’s relationship to their labour. I do not, however, care very much for his predilection for teleological explanations. Is it necessarily true that workers will eventually rebel against their capitalist overlords and establish a workers’ paradise, or is it merely your ardent desire that they do so? Is and ought are two different phenomena. The problem with prognostications like Marx’s inevitable dictatorship of the proletariat is that there’s no proof that the proposed events will in fact happen. I do consider myself left-wing, though, since I am largely egalitarian.

The following ideas, presented in bullet-point format, are an attempt to articulate my particular flavour of leftism.

  • People do not have identical abilities, backgrounds or proclivities; however, these differences do not require anti-egalitarian policies to maintain social equilibrium. Anti-egalitarianism based on group characteristics requires adopting a number of a priori assumptions that can be disproved easily with one or two social interactions. If you do deal with people categorically in a way that under- or overestimates them, then you may incur negative consequences from that erroneous assumption. It’s therefore optimal to adopt a politically egalitarian strategy to avoid fucking this up. There are some good explanations from game theory that show egalitarian or cooperative strategies to be better evolutionary strategies than adhering to a version of “nature, red in tooth and claw.”
  • I am a staunch individualist. That doesn’t mean I’m a libertarian or a fan of laissez-faire capitalism. I believe that each person has their own needs and characteristics that are distinct from those around them. An individual’s traits should not be subsumed by group characteristics if the characteristics associated with the group are inapt to describe that individual.
  • I value cooperation and humane social policy.
  • I am not immune to bias. You are not immune to bias. There is no such thing as total neutrality. We as a species have irrational tendencies deeply embedded in our lizard-brains. Bias is unavoidable, but you can question it. And by all means, you should.
  • Rights are, or should be, granted or rescinded based on the potential to materially harm another person’s existence. Allowing a same-gender couple to marry does not materially affect heterosexual couples’ existence; the latter can still marry and enjoy the same benefits they did before same-gender couples’ relationships were granted legal parity. Murder, rape and child abuse, however, are forms of material harm. Note that I include direct psychological harm as a form of material harm; I don’t find Cartesian dualism useful here. Emotional abusers inflict real, long-lasting effects on their victims.
  • I don’t think “natural rights” exist in an absolute sense. Humans created them. That’s not to say that human rights aren’t important, but that societies had a role in determining what those rights should be. We do not need to use Platonic forms to define what we believe is right.
  • I am vehemently anti-authoritarian. And no, expanding the rights of one designated group to match those of a group that has always had rights is not a form of authoritarianism.
  • I am pro-women, anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ, anti-disablist and anti-xenophobic because of my individualism, not in spite of it. “Mexicans are rapists” is a ridiculous generalisation. “Black people aren’t very intelligent” is an invidious and poorly substantiated claim.
  • I’ve become convinced that ontological debates about people’s identities are useless parlour games in the broader scheme of things. Debating the validity of someone’s gender identity, for example, is not particularly productive when more powerful people threaten people’s material existence. Let’s spend less time on how trans people will hypothetically destroy womanhood and more time on how authoritarian conservative politicians are hell-bent on abrogating women’s rights to control their own bodies. Even if we use a favourite reductio ad absurdum argument, like “I identify as an attack helicopter,” who cares? Does Attack Helicopter pose a direct threat to you by virtue of their identity?
  • I see the utility of group-based strategies to stop people from lumping people together and judging them categorically without knowing their individual circumstances. Strategies like affirmative action/positive discrimination, diversity recruiting and sensitivity trainings should be aimed at ultimately creating a society in which people are treated as unique individuals, not members of a stereotyped conglomerate. To stop unwarranted stereotyping, you have to recognise that said stereotyping actually exists. Ignoring it won’t lead to real change. That said, however, I am uncomfortable with the tendency towards elevating group identities over individual ones. This applies both to the left and to the right, though I obviously find the right-wing variety far worse. Certain conservatives, reactionaries and libertarians may protest that they care more about individuals than groups, but these very same people will complain that they’re not allowed to make claims about women’s unsuitability to work outside the home, black people’s low intelligence or the International Jewish Conspiracy. People like Richard Spencer and other blatant white supremacists may be the nauseating of the lot, but at least they’re intellectually honest about their use of crude categories to unfairly stereotype people. I also believe that negative categorical stereotypes can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies that create positive feedback loops that continue inexorably until people have enough sense to disaggregate the people unfairly lumped together.
  • I do not think that privilege or oppression are static categories. I don’t believe in the eternal battle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, white people versus “people of colour,” or God and Satan. Rather, I see these relationships as fluid, spatially and temporally bound phenomena. (Yes, I put “people of colour” in dick quotes this time. I use it out of convenience, but it is not my favourite term. Since language intended for others should be understandable, I’m often stuck using words I’d rather not use instead of inventing my own.)
  • When people talk about “opposing capitalism,” they should be clear about what they actually mean. What we understand as capitalism contains a number of different concatenated ideas. Creating for-profit businesses does not require enslavement or worker exploitation; the idea that maximising profit before other concerns can very well lead to those human-rights abuses. If, however, economic policy is connected with the idea that people are entitled to full and fair participation within a given society, then it stands to reason that slavery and labour-rights abuses are inherently unacceptable. Neoliberalism is an even vaguer term; for some people, it appears to have developed the meaning of “thing I don’t like.” I’m hardly a supporter of laissez-faire capitalism, but I’m not a communist, either. I’m not against profit-making or the exchange of money for goods, but I am opposed to the idea that rampant social inequality should be acceptable. “That’s just the way it is” is a terrible defence. Yeah, that may be the way it is, but is that how it should be? Sometimes you really want the ought in an is/ought problem.
  • We exist within overlapping, often mutually reinforcing contexts; there is no one objectivity, but the confluence of several observed and experienced objectivities and subjectivities. We don’t know if an entity exists outside the known universe that defines reality, rather like the distinction between positive and negative space in art. (In this case, the known universe would be the positive space, while the reality-definer would be the negative space.) There’s no proof that one exists. I’ll agree that there is a consensus reality, since there are observations that have been corroborated over and over again across time. This is why I believe in the existence of natural phenomena like gravity, evolution and global warming. If I talk about objective reality, I’m technically referring to the consensus reality whose characteristics have been uncovered through empirical findings.

Are these definitive statements? Hardly; I’m hesitant to make declarations that may or may not hold true in the face of new, controverting evidence. Anti-authoritarianism, egalitarianism and individualism are the closest things I have to core beliefs, but otherwise, they’re subject to change and refinement over time. I find that I can’t keep myself trapped in a thought-loop without wanting to break out of it.

The Banuala Language (conlang draft)

Banuala literally means ‘tongue of the people’ or ‘the people’s tongue’: tongue(NOM) people(GEN). ‘Banu’ means tongue, language or speech.


Banuala is usually a verb-subject-object language. Adjectives often precede nouns in Banuala, but they can technically be placed anywhere because of the case system. Banuala does not have a productive adverbial system, apart from a few fixed phrases from the language’s earlier history.


Regular verb paradigm, using ‘muta’ (to eat) as an example

Muta – to eat; stem – mut-

two main tenses – close and distant; past and future are denoted by expressions of time

Close Tense

1st person: mute ato / mútet atori / mutéti atorii / mutéget atoga / mutégeti atogai

2nd person close: mutéta et, imat, dedet, imatet / muténeta etei, imatei, dedetei, imatetei / mutetáneta etui, imatui, dedetui, imatetui

2nd person distant: mutétama adet, dedadet, adematet / mutenétama adetei, dedadetei, adematetei / mutetanétama adetui, dedadetui / adematetui



(the root ‘ma’ in intimate and deferential pronouns reflects an idea of care/regard)

3rd person animate: múto taorit, taorat, taorant / mutóta taoritei, taoratei, taorantei / muténta taoritui, taoratui, taorantui

3rd person inanimate: mutan tatonat / mutata tatonatei / mutanta tatonatui

Banua – to speak; stem – banu-

banute ato / banutet atori / banuteti atorii / banuteget atoga / banutegeti atogai

banutetama adet, dedadet, adematet / banutenetama adatei, dedadetei, adematetei / banutetanetama adetui, dedadetui, adematetui

banuto taorit, taorat, taorant / tanutota taoritei, taoratei, taorantei / banutenta taoritui, taoratui, taorantui

Banutan tatonat / banutata tatonatei / banutanta tatonatui


nua – people

banu – tongue

muta – food

‘Your people’ in the deferential familiar singular: imatétela nua


Words are often pronounced on the…

  • first syllable in two-syllable words
  • penultimate or first syllable in three-syllable words
  • antepenultimate syllable if there are four or more syllables.

The stress pattern is… similar to that of Hungarian in some respects? Perhaps? Banuala strongly resists stressing words on the final syllable.

Poetic metre prefers anapaests? How should Banuala poetry scan? (acute accents are to indicate stress; Banuala doesn’t typically use diacritical marks)


Banuala requires that pronouns be directly used in a sentence even though verbs inflect for person and gender. This is because information about the referent or listener is reflected in the pronoun but not necessarily the verb.



  • ato (singular),
  • atori (dual inclusive),
  • atorii (dual exclusive),
  • atoga (plural inclusive) and
  • atogai (plural exclusive)


  • et (neutral close singular)
  • imat (intimate singular) – used between parents and children, siblings and similar-aged cousins, and extremely close friends.
  • imátet (deferential familiar singular) – typically used with second-degree older relatives, like grandparents, aunts, uncles or older cousins
  • dédet (contemptuous close singular) – used for people like ex-friends and estranged family members
  • ádet (neutral distant singular) – used when meeting someone for the first time; a very safe pronoun to use
  • adematet – deferential distant similar
  • dedadet – contemptuous distant singular
  • étei (neutral close dual)
  • ímai (intimate dual)
  • imátetei – deferential familiar dual
  • adematetei – deferential distant dual
  • dedétei (contemptuous close dual)
  • adétei (neutral distant dual)
  • dedádetei (contemptuous distant dual)
  • étui (neutral close plural)
  • imui (intimate plural; the ‘a’ in the root was swallowed over time)
  • imatetui – deferential familiar plural
  • adematetui – deferential distant plural
  • dedetui (contemptuous close plural)
  • adetui (neutral distant plural; pronounced ‘atui’ in fast speech)
  • dedadetui (contemptuous distant plural; sometimes pronounced ‘datui’ in fast speech)


Third-person pronouns inflect for gender, number, case and animacy. A deferential or contemptuous prefix can also be added, but this is considered a modifier, not a noun class.

Feminine singular: taorit

Masculine singular: taorat

Neuter animate singular: taorant

Inanimate singular: tatonat

F2: taoritei

M2: taoratei

N2: taorantei

I2: tatonatei

FPL: taoritui

MPL: taoratui

NPL: taorantui

IPL: tatonatui

Masculine dual

Neuter animate dual

Inanimate dual

Feminine plural

Masculine plural

Neuter plural

Inanimate plural


Generally, –la is added to make genitives and possessive pronouns. If a first- or second- person pronoun ends in a consonant, an ‘e’ is added to the suffix to prevent consonant clusters that aren’t allowed in Banuala. Third-person pronouns drop the -t instead.

1st person: atola / atorila (atoriila) / atogala (atogaila)

2nd person

Close neutral: etela / eteila / etuila

Distant neutral: adetela / adeteila / adetuila

imatetela, etc.


singular: taorila, taorala, taoranela, tatonala (the final -t is dropped from third-person singular pronouns in the genitive)






Auxiliary verbs – does Banuala have a copula, modal etc?

Common word-building affixes


torumpa (n, v) – shit, excrement

15 Rules for Writing Generic Scholarly Articles, White Papers, and Annual Reports That Absolutely No One Will Enjoy Reading

A graphic that says, "15 rules for writing generic scholarly articles, white papers, and annual reports that absolutely no one will enjoy reading."
A graphic that says, "15 rules for writing generic scholarly articles, white papers, and annual reports that absolutely no one will enjoy reading."
  1. The passive voice must always be used.
  2. Avoid simple words like “before” and “after.” Instead, opt for “prior to,” “in advance of,” and “subsequent to,” which will doubtless make you sound more intelligent.
  3. To leverage your core competencies, liaise with key stakeholders, and build capacity in oral and written expression, it is to be ensured that every management-speak cliché is utilized going forward by all personnel—or they may risk being rightsized for not using best practices in their writing methodology. Remember, you’ll never be impactful without lots of jargon and gobbledygook, so stay within the parameters.
  4. Never write “people.” Write “persons” and “individuals” instead—preferably ten times on the same page.
  5. Even though you finished grad school ten years ago, write as though you’ve got a professor who wants a specific word count. Pad your sentences and paragraphs with as many redundant, repetitious, pleonastic, redundant, and tautological phrases and locutions as possible. Make them circuitous and repetitive, too. “Overall,” “in the final analysis,” and “it is interesting to note” are also handy ways to lengthen a paper that’s otherwise short on content.
  6. Who needs “because” when you can use “due to the fact that,” “in light of the fact that,” and “owing to the fact that”?
  7. Add in some legalese for extra variety. You’ll always sound more authoritative if you say “pursuant to” instead of “under” or “according to.”
  8. Forget what Strunk and White said about omitting needless words. In fact, you should include a plethora of superfluous vocables in excess; otherwise, you won’t come across as scholarly enough. (See also Rule 5.)
  9. Spock and Data from Star Trek should be your models of good writing. Contractions make you sound personable, which is not the done thing.
  10. A paper is never complete without a few parenthetical references (PRs), especially for words that won’t be used anywhere else in the paper.
  11. Never start your sentences with “and” or “but.” Use heavy openers like “in addition” and “however” instead.
  12. When quoting sources, don’t use “said.” Words like “noted,” “indicated,” and “stated” sound more elegant, don’t you think?
  13. To sound more credible, say “evidence-based” and “best practices,” even when the evidence in question is a few online commenters, and the “best” practices aren’t even in the top ten.
  14. If you’re a psychology researcher, be sure to say that your respondents “endorsed” having depression and anxiety—because nine out of ten patients apparently endorse feeling like shit.
  15. Never get help with your writing. After all, your middle-school English teacher told you that you were the best writer in the class, so how much more help do you need?

How Not to Write

Prior to the inception of this paper, input was sought by all relevant stakeholders with regard to the maximisation of reader frustration, boredom and agony. Most intriguingly, there was a statistically significant correlation between reduced reader attention span and utilisation of field-specific jargon. Additionally, chi-square tests of significance indicated that boredom and jargon utilisation were not independent of each other. In the qualitative portion of our study, several participants endorsed boredom and depression from reading yet another terrible psychology paper. Bloggs, Smith & Jones (2022) noted the connection between poor writing in the social sciences and the desire of this blog’s author to pull his hair out every time he reads any of these badly written articles. Due to the fact that this paper was written deliberately to induce boredom in its readers, we were able to get published immediately without even a ‘Revise and Resubmit’.

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