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Planet Rachael: know when to keep it simple and unambiguous

The nuances and ambiguities of the English language can lead to misinterpretation, so don't end up with egg on your face after saying you have a frog in your throat.

The nuances and ambiguities of the English language can lead to misinterpretation, so don't end up with egg on your face after saying you have a frog in your throat

Rachael, like many people on the autistic spectrum, struggles to grasp abstract concepts. She thinks in a concrete way and has a tendency to take words or phrases literally. As an animal lover, she is still traumatised from the time I told her she had a frog in her throat.

The English language is awash with nuances, colloquialisms and puns and I see her struggle daily to interpret sentences. I am forever mindful of the need to use simple, unambiguous language in conversation.

I was reminded of this last week when

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The nuances and ambiguities of the English language can lead to misinterpretation, so don't end up with egg on your face after saying you have a frog in your throat


Wendy Johnson's daughter Rachael is still traumatised from the time she was told she
'had a frog in her throat'. Picture: Alamy

Rachael, like many people on the autistic spectrum, struggles to grasp abstract concepts. She thinks in a concrete way and has a tendency to take words or phrases literally. As an animal lover, she is still traumatised from the time I told her she ‘had a frog in her throat’. 

The English language is awash with nuances, colloquialisms and puns and I see her struggle daily to interpret sentences. I am forever mindful of the need to use simple, unambiguous language in conversation.

I was reminded of this last week when I had cause to seek medical aid after experiencing labrynthitis. For anyone wondering what this feels like, think back to how you felt the morning after the best alcohol-fuelled bender you ever had and treble it. It is grim and about as welcome as the Trump administration in the US.

Personal question

Spinning on my axis in the GP surgery I staggered my way to the practice nurse and demanded drugs with menaces. The nurse, looking worryingly like Mrs Overall from the Acorn Antiques television show, was newly back to practice and squinting over her glasses perched at the end of her nose, took her time flicking through the British National Formulary gamely narrowing down the prescription options.

Out of the blue she looked up and said: ‘Are you terrible in bed?’

‘You need to ask my husband that one,’ I thought wryly. Of course, what she meant to say was: ‘Do you feel dizzy lying down as well as when sitting up?’ That would have been a perfectly reasonable diagnostic question for an unbalanced person, but that was not what she said.

I said ‘no’ to the question, but because Rachael doesn’t sleep well she would have answered ‘yes’ and hey presto – a misdiagnosis. Food for thought, or it would be if I was well enough to eat.


About the author

 Wendy Johnson is a matron in a general hospital and writes about life with her daughter Rachael who has autism

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