Saturday, August 23, 2014

Scatology of a Health Communication: so which is it? “Poo” or “Poop”?


For those of us who burrow in similar holes trying to produce easier-to- understood language to explain health information, one place we find ourselves provincially tongue tied is when discussing any and all things scatological. 
 excrement       stool
 secretions        solid bathroom waste
 bowels             waste
 defecation        crap

The committees we’ve convened to decide how to say what we mean are legend.

Ebola has us at it again.
According to WHO, (my highlighting/coloring) 
“Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.”
     And in their Q/A they state:
“Infection occurs from direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people.”

A few days ago a talented colleague who strives to communicate health clearly to a broad national audience shared a statement her organization had settled on:
“You can get Ebola by touching the vomit, blood, spit, sweat, pee, or poop of someone who is sick with or died from Ebola.”
YES! Finally  The frankness, the downright street worthiness of that word “poop.”

Ah, but over that second cup of coffee, when my linguistic component kicks in - which is it – 
Poo or Poop?
Isn’t poop more used as the verb. 
As in, mother to child, Did you poop? 
And isn’t poo more the noun.  “Did you have a lot of poo?”
            Bottom line – which is more appropriate to use for understandability.  Would poop offend less than poo?
A dictionary search shed little light.
MacMillan Dictionary reports thus:
 poop noun

The OED doesn’t list the word “poo” but places poop’s origin in the 1930s and define it as “to defecate” as in “take a poop”.

A wasteful linguistic exercise?   Not really.
I’m more than curious about this specific word choice. 
Which do people prefer?
Is there a chance some readers/listeners would be offended?  Think we’re being infantilizing?

Do we care if the result is that the larger public gets the message?