Terminating…Why Words Matter

In an age where we are all faced with political correctness, it proves beneficial to be well versed in all the ways a person could describe something. Lately we have been how to describe very delicate subjects such as the transgender policy on bathrooms, ISIS driven hatred and even touchy terminology from our presidential candidates. Everyone has a platform on the internet, and now more than ever we must be very careful with our words.

Also introducing, Blake Shelton’s creative new song about how (presumably Gwen Stefani) has a Way With Words.

I find it very important to try my best to use the most appropriate terminology in life and in my vocal rehabilitation sessions. I want to address the movement to terminate the word “vocal abuse” and use “phonotrauma” in its stead.

What we've been using for a while to describe screaming, pressed talking, throat clearing, etc.

What we’ve been using for a while to describe screaming, pressed talking, throat clearing, etc.

Where we're headed.

Where we’re headed.

The idea, brought forth to me by Kittie Verdolini Abbott in her latest lecture I attended in February, suggests that using the term “vocal abuse”  is detrimental to the vocal rehabilitation process.  Vocal abuse describes behaviors like pressed talking, screaming/shouting, coughing, singing loudly, and excessive talking. She suggests using “phonotrauma” instead, so as not to describe a person’s habits with such negative context. This can help with the process of shaping and creating new and efficient vocal habits because people want to know what they’re doing well, and they may tend to focus on the bad and hear nothing else you say. (And a lot of beneficial information is given during an evaluation or session.)

I relate this to ASHA’s policy to refer to speech therapy as intervention or sessions. To me, that says we are moving away from the idea that the services SLP’s provide are therapy. However, I find that much of what I do when working with voice and swallowing patients is therapeutic. I can understand and also like considering Speech-Language Pathology as more professional and holding our skilled services to higher standards.

Other terms I’d like your input on:

  • Calling a person gender ambiguous or gender neutral. What’s appropriate?
  • Vocology instead of Voice Disorders. Do you think it will cause confusion referring to an SLP as a Vocologist instead of a Speech Language Pathologist?
  • Laryngeal Dystonia or Vocal Dystonia instead of Spastic/Spasmodic Dysphonia. Does Vocal sound like Focal? Will it be similar to telling the difference between Dysphagia and Dysphasia?

I would love to hear your thoughts and input.


Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She rehabilitates voice and swallowing at her private practice, a tempo Voice Center, and lectures on vocal health to area choirs and students. She also owns and runs a mobile videostroboscopy and FEES company, Voice Diagnostix. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Voice Disorders, and a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Pan-American Vocology Association. Knickerbocker blogs on her website at  www.atempovoicecenter.com. She has developed a line of kid and adult-friendly therapy materials specifically for voice on TPT or her website. Follow her on Pinterest, on Twitter and Instagram or like her on Facebook.


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