Preferred Language 101

We use language in everything we do and the language that we use may allow others to be stereotypical when it comes to us who are affected by HIV. People copycat the language that is used, first by us, and then from the media, doctors and other people that we admire.

Most of the time language is used incorrectly, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident -thereby lack of education. It also carries stereotypical factors and concepts.  This language alienates those affected by these messages.

Since the beginning of HIV and AIDS we have seen and heard stigmatizing messages, which change the way we feel about ourselves.  We say we are trying to improve this, but people are still doing the same thing. In order to use better language, we must become more educated and share what we have learned. Terminology is important–from the words we speak to the illustrations that we paint.

Recently, many groups have surfaced that explicitly discuss new and upcoming HIV-related terms. According to some articles, “Preferred Language” helps remove judgment from the individual and rather, focuses on the individual.

There are some words that people use that may be demeaning and cause stigma, and then there are the “Preferred” words that may be used instead that are less harmful, with a meaning that is more understandable.  Try changing your terminology, which can change the way you think.

Stigmatizing words Preferred Language
HIV patient Person living with HIV
Died from AIDS Died from AIDS- related illness
HIV Virus  HIV (otherwise it is a redundant use of HIV)
Prostitution or prostitute  Sex worker or sale of sexual services
Became infected Contracted/Acquired


Can you think of some stigmatizing language along with its ‘Preferred Language” that can be used instead? 

For further information, check out the discussion in Poz:

or more terms at:


3 thoughts on “Preferred Language 101

  1. I am confused; I read your blog fairly regularly but how can a person who has died from AIDS be more or less stigmatized by saying Died from AIDS related illness. THEY ARE DEAD ! This whole group seems to revolve around self-imposed stigma victimization – what is done to actually help the women

    1. Hi Elaine Woods,
      I’m glad to see that you read our blog. I am a member of the LTAI support group and we have created the group and this blog to share information about HIV. And, we continue to support and help other people living with HIV. I wanted to let you know what “Let’s Talk About It” has done to date. LTAI has published the following: a brochure of resources for people living with HIV, calendars for providers and staff about respect and treatment for their patients, 2 magazines with information and a Patient Rights and Responsibility booklet. We also attend conferences/workshops to learn more ways to help people living with HIV.

      We have members who speak at Universities and we participate in AIDSWatch every year. Many of us are Certified Peer Advocates and we were also trained to create a Pen Pal Program for people living with HIV and caregivers.

      Once you’re dead you can still be stigmatized by society if you had HIV. I for one would want the fight for changes to continue. And if I lost a loved one to an HIV related illness I would continue to fight stigmatization.

      I believe that the preferred language was used to remind everyone that people do not die from AIDS, rather they die from an AIDS-related illness because of their weak immune system.

      We are a group of strong women and we are not victims and we refuse to be victimized. We have stepped up, we have spoken out in support and in defense of all women. We will continue our fight for all people living with HIV.

      We look forward to hearing more from you.

    2. Hi Elaine,

      Thank you for commenting. It’s nice to get a dialogue going on this type of subject. I am also a LTAI member, who has found the group to be very supporting and encouraging in whatever it does. The preferred language is just an extension of that encouragement and support that we as members have with each other. As a person living with HIV, positive language can make all the difference when talking about HIV/ AIDS. It’s important that people living with HIV also use language that is uplifting and supportive. When we use stigmatizing or negative language to talk about the virus, we are just perpetuating the stigma that still surrounds it and people living with it. When we say infected instead of contracted, we are using a negative connotation that is not helping people to understand. Even if people have died from AIDS related illnesses, we still want to use the proper language because whether they are dead or not, they still deserve the proper respect.

      Sure our stigma is self imposed, but there is a reason for that. Society has been stigmatizing the virus since it was discovered in the eighties. Societal opinion is what shapes most people’s lives. To live comfortably in society, you have to confirm conform. How are people who know the societal stigma of HIV going to be able to throw off that mantle when it has been an issue from day one? If people are going to stop living with self and post stigma, then it needs to start within our society. A small but important way to accomplish that is to change the language we use about the disease. I know it might not seem that way,
      but people do take notice and it does help.

      I’m glad you asked such an important question, and I hope you keep reading and commenting. We appreciate your feedback!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.