New Chinese word for "autistic" sought

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Tweet thread by Rix@Reitoji9

I was going to let this one speak for itself, but there haven't been many replies and there are several points that need clarification, so I'll add the following observations:



self | close; shut; obstruct; stop up | disease; illness; intestinal obstruction

The question here is to what degree "zhèng 症" is stigmatizing.  It does indeed basically mean "disease; illness", but a more nuanced understanding of its signification is "symptom; syndrome; symptom complex".  Still, the character used to write this morpheme does have the "sickness / illness" semantic classifier, Kangxi radical 104:  疒.

Cf. autism (n.)

1912, from German Autismus, coined 1912 by Swiss psychiatrist Paul Bleuler from Greek autos "self" (see auto-) + -ismos suffix of action or of state. The notion is of "morbid self-absorption."

[VHM:  I'm not so sure we need the "morbid" modifier here.]


From German Autismus, coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1912, from Ancient Greek αὐτός (autós, self) + -ισμός (-ismós, -ism).


As for the new proposal suggested by "a chinese person" to Rix in reply #2 to the thread, it is:




Kě'ài 可愛 means "lovely; lovable; likable; adorable; cute; amiable".  Is that what we want for "autistic"?  I think that we need something that conveys the notion of "self-absorbed".


Selected readings


[Thanks to Charles Belov]


  1. Ed M said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 7:25 am

    Autistic people are not "self-absorbed". That seems rather insensitive.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 7:41 am

    @Ed M

    Thank you.

    Please give a preferable suggestion for those who are trying to come up with a better Chinese equivalent than "self-close-disease" or "self-lovable".

  3. Not a naive speaker said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 9:05 am

    Maybe the wikitionary entry might help. The great majority of the translations are variants of "autism". Speakers of Arabic, Icelandic, Korean, Maori, Persian and Vietnamese could provide a "literal" translation in English. This might help to find a "better" Chinese word

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 9:35 am

    The Swiss shrink who coined "Autismus" (the German word from which the English word derives) over a century ago probably moved in circles where people mostly knew that autos/αὐτός was ancient Greek for "self," but I daresay the etymology is these days more opaque to most users of the word in English, who likewise may not have an intuitive sense of why there's an "auto" in "automobile."

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 9:42 am

    To extend my prior comment: presumably the 自 is in the current Mandarin name as a calque of αὐτός, but given what we now know about the condition I'm not sure if we would name it the same way in a Western context if we were working on a clean slate, so I'm not sure that a new Mandarin name ought to feel obligated to be based on the "self" concept, with the only open issue being what other characters you combine 自 with. Why not start from scratch?

  6. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 10:10 am

    Just to note that 自閉症 is also the Japanese word for “autistic”, probably borrowed into Chinese.

  7. Rodger C said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 10:38 am

    Something that means "figure-out power."

  8. Victor Mair said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:00 am

    @Rodger C

    Very interesting and creative response to J .W. Brewer's proposal.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:21 am

    Prof. Mair: Is there a Mandarin word or phrase equivalent to the English sociolinguistics term "euphemism treadmill"? Does the phenomenon exist in Mandarin whether or not there is a label for it?

  10. june. said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:35 am

    I don't speak enough Chinese to have any idea how well this'd render but something like self-pattern-mind is where I'd start, inspired by words like "neurodiversity" in English

  11. Victor Mair said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:37 am

    @J.W. Brewer

    Answer to your first question: I do not know, but most likely not.

    Answer to your second question: I think that euphemism treadmills exist in all languages.

  12. june. said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:49 am

    Note including "self" was a considered choice there, like self-patterning. My first thought was different-pattern-mind, but orienting it to self rather than against others feels more positive and less like a calque of "neurodivergent"

  13. june. said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:52 am

    Wait my first comment doesn't seem to have posted, apologies. My suggestion was self-pattern-mind (with the caveat that I am not a native speaker)

  14. Haamu said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 1:41 pm

    I would suggest dropping the concept of "self" and certainly the loaded and inaccurate concept of "self-absorbed."

    From my own experience, including a close relationship with nephew with autism, "absorption" is definitely part of it, but not absorption with the self. Daniel is absorbed with anime, Tarantino, film noir, various subdomains of computing, and as he's reached young adulthood, new and broader topics like true crime, medicine, and American politics. I envy his attention to detail, his staggering memory, and most of all, his ability to focus deeply on his interests. (My own neurodivergence tends more toward ADHD.)

    I have encouraged him towards publishing his film criticism. He would be excellent — but it's worth noting that he never really frames a critique of a film or anime in terms of his own personal feelings and reactions. He seems to have developed or acquired a set of guidelines of what a film should be, and then he presents what comes off as an objective analysis. I find talking to him constantly thought-provoking, but there seems to be little subjectivity, let alone self-absorption.

    Admittedly that's a small sample size. I would be interested in learning whether my observations generalize.

  15. Jerry Packard said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 2:07 pm

    自闭障碍 zibi zhang'ai (self closed impediment/disorder) is a bit more benign, and better fits the 'disorder' part of the unabbreviated 'autism spectrum disorder.'

  16. Trogluddite said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 4:47 pm

    As an autistic myself, and in contact with many others, your observation about your nephew rings true to me. I have always found it extremely difficult to describe my own hyper-focused interests to people. They are not undertaken for the approval of others, nor for self-gratification, nor even for any imagined end result – but apparently this is contrary to some unwritten rule of human nature of which I am not aware. Even the compulsion to perform them does not always reach my conscious mind, I simply find myself performing them with no memory of when or why I began (often it may have been hours ago). Surely it is the fact that non-autistic people usually do require a reward to motivate them which indicates self-gratification?!

    As has been said earlier 'self-absorbed' is an unfair characterisation, very obviously coined by an outsider looking in, not by an autistic person looking out. We are not simply born innately asocial, nor even introverted (extrovert autistics are common), and acute loneliness is endemic. We are perfectly capable of empathising with people who share similar models of the world to our own, it's just that the vast majority of people have perceptual and cognitive traits which conspire to make their models incomprehensibly weird (and the onus is always put upon us to attempt to comprehend theirs, while they have the luxury of being rarely forced to imagine ours).

    I do not know enough about Chinese to be able to say how compounding Chinese characters might have different cognitive effects than compounding etymons borrowed from a foreign language (though I would be surprised if there is no difference). But as a BrE monoglot, my opinion is that the debates about the appropriateness of person-first language and eponymous syndrome naming have been tiring enough already. The euphemism treadmill will no doubt take "autism" from us soon enough, and there are far better ways to determine a person's "autism friendliness" than the minutiae of their grammar and vocabulary; so why upset the apple cart?

  17. Lars said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 5:05 pm

    Trogluddite: +1

  18. Michael Watts said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 5:17 pm

    Still, the character used to write this morpheme does have the "sickness / illness" semantic classifier, Kangxi radical 104

    So does 瘦, which everyone agrees is a highly positive word. Words take their valence from their meaning, not their spelling.

  19. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 5:44 pm

    Trogluddite: I don't know enough about autism to have made any suggestions, or enough about Chinese to say whether a new word is really needed. (I don't know of any need in English.) However, I do notice a theme in your comments: You don't understand the reasons for your hyper-focusing, and you don't understand the minds of the vast majority of people. That suggests that something about not understanding might be a good start for a hypothetical new Chinese word.

    On the other hand, it's still a negative characteristic. Also, a possibility like "not-understanding-mind condition" or some such, even if it's on the right track, would be too general, since you said you can empathize with people who are similar to you in a certain way. Being on the right track but somewhat wrong might lead to misunderstandings that are harder to correct than more blatant ones.

  20. Pickering said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 5:54 pm

    As a grandparent of a 7 year old boy on the spectrum, for him I would add something describing repetitive actions, plus something suggesting me-centrism, of course me-centrism can also be used to describe most humans deemed neurotypicals. Plus something describing being not keen to share and play with peers. And also something describing being easily overwhlemed with sensory inputs, especially sounds.

  21. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 6:16 pm

    I understand 自闭症 as meaning “closed in on oneself syndrome “. Since there are apparently extroverts who are autistic this is probably inaccurate. Nevertheless, given the difficulty of even defining autism, finding an alternative will be difficult. Moreover, even if a term is found, not only will the general community need to be convinced to use it; the medical community will need to be convinced too.

    All of which is probably feasible, but the real problem is still finding a single expression that sums up autism. “Repetitive action personality” doesn’t really work as it is only one aspect. Changing 症 ‘syndrome” to 障害 “defect” doesn’t appear to me to be a very positive step.

  22. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 6:19 pm

    Sorry, 障碍, not 障害.

  23. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 6:20 pm

    障碍 meaning “impediment “.

  24. Victor Mair said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 7:06 pm

    疒 is not used for spelling. It is a semantic classifier, Kangxi radical 104, meaning "sickness / illness". If one is forced to pronounce this semantophore, it would be nè or chuáng, but neither of these syllables has anything to do with the pronunciation of "zhèng 症".

    "…spelling is the rendering of speech sound (phoneme) into writing (grapheme)" (source)

    pīnyīn 拼音 (lit., "put / string / join together — sounds")

    "phoneticize; spell; phonetic transcription; phonetic alphabet; alphabetic writing; phonetic letters; combine sounds into syllables"

  25. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 7:40 pm

    Autism is, it appears, currently divided into four types under one umbrella: autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

    The one that is probably familiar to many people is Asperger syndrome, typified by difficulty with social interactions, restricted interests, and desire for sameness. On the plus side, people with Aspergers often have remarkable focus and persistence, aptitude for recognising patterns, and good attention to detail.

    So how is this to be conveyed in Chinese? 自闭症 means 'self-enclosed syndrome'. It's an old term and, as I mentioned above, was possibly coined by the Japanese and then borrowed into Chinese. It does roughly describe the Aspergers syndrome characteristics given above (difficulty with social interactions, restricted interests, and desire for sameness). If 症 is a problem, then so is 'syndrome' in 'Aspergers syndrome'.

    The desire for a more positive-sounding name is understandable. In English some conditions have managed to largely transition to a more neutral name (e.g., leprosy -> Hansen's disease, Mongolism -> Down's syndrome). 自闭症 has been put forward here as a name that needs updating. But as I said above, the problem is finding a name that succinctly and accurately describes the condition. 自可愛 is a euphemism and, what is worse, likely to become the butt of jokes. It means 'self-cute', so that one can already envisage jokes going around that so-and-so (not necessarily someone with Aspergers) 'thinks him/herself cute'.

    The self-esteem of people with Asperger's syndrome (Aspies) is important but it's also really important that any new name should be 1) usable as a medical term (as 'Hansen's disease' and 'Down's syndrome' are), and 2) sounds respectable and does not make the situation worse.

  26. Jerry Packard said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 7:57 pm

    @ Michael Watts – I'm not sure I agree that shou4 瘦 is necessarily a positive word. In the 1950s and 1960s in China it might not have been considered positive.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 8:07 pm

    I had already written the following before I saw Jerry Packard's latest comment:

    "shòu 瘦, which everyone agrees is a highly positive word"

    No, it is not, except maybe to late 20th and early 21st century Chinese who are living in the West or who have been heavily influenced by the modern West, where thinness is a desirable trait.

    In the traditional Chinese way of looking at matters of health, shòu 瘦 is negative, something to be avoided. It signifies "emaciated; skinny; meager". Even today, I hear Chinese say to a friend with alarm, "Nǐ shòule! 你瘦了!" ("You've lost weight!"), which is the opposite of "Nǐ pàngle 你瘦了!" ("You've put on weight! You've grown fat!").

    Applied to soil, land, etc., "shòu 瘦" signifies "depleted; exhausted", hardly "positive" traits.

    All of which is to say, ""shòu 瘦" and "zhèng 症" have the "sickness; illness; disease" semantic classifier for a reason.

  28. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 8:35 pm

    The semantics of 'thinness' are cross-linguistically interesting. In English 'thin' is a negative (so is 'skinny'), 'slim' and 'slender' are positive. But we talk of 'slim pickings' (a negative) and 'lean soil' (also a negative).

    In Chinese, a woman would not necessarily want to be called 瘦 shòu 'thin', but she would definitely like to be called 苗条 miáotiáo (slender like a seedling). And many Chinese women want to 减肥 jiǎnféi 'reduce fat', i.e., lose weight.

  29. VVOV said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 8:41 pm

    I don't know enough Chinese to propose an alternative term, but I think it's interesting to note that (at least according to Japanese wikipedia), the "official" Japanese term for "schizophrenia" was changed about 20 years ago along similar lines.

    The old term was 精神分裂病 "split mind disease", a calque of the Greek roots of "schizophrenia." This was seen as stigmatizing and also not in keeping with a modern understanding of the condition.

    The new term is 統合失調症 "integration imbalance syndrome".

  30. VVOV said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 8:48 pm

    Oh- also @Bathrobe regarding leprosy / Hansen's disease (HD). It's mildly interesting to note that "leprosy", but not "Hansen's disease", is actually in compliance with the current World Health Organization guidelines for naming of infectious diseases (i.e. that they shouldn't be named after a person or place, hence "Covid-19" and not "Wuhan pneumonia").

    However, it seems fair to say that "leprosy" is a special case bearing deep historical stigma, which makes the eponym "Hansen's disease" less bad.

  31. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 9:07 pm

    @VVOV on schizophrenia

    Interestingly, Chinese Wikipedia indicates that schizophrenia is known by the old term 精神分裂症 jīngshén fēnliè zhèng 'spirit-split-syndrome' in China, 思覺失調症sījué shītiáo zhèng 'thinking imbalance syndrome' in Taiwan, and 統合失調症 tōgō shitchō-shō 'integration imbalance syndrome' in Japan. (Vietnamese appears to also use the old term: tâm thần phân liệt.)

    If the move to rename autism bears fruit there will possibly be a similar split between Mainland and other usage with the Chinese-character-using world.

  32. Pickering said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 9:26 pm

    In an earlier post I mentioned my grandson who's on the spectrum, but I also have two cousins with Asperger Syndrome, one successful as a mathematician, the other as a linguist. My point in mentioning them and my grandson, is to remind folks of one of my favorite expressions which is "if you have met one person who is autistic, you have met one autistic person. That of course should go without saying.

  33. Trogluddite said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 10:18 pm

    In the latest DSM-V and ICD-11 manuals, which between them will cover most nationalities' healthcare systems once the ICD is fully rolled out, there is now only a single diagnosis available of "Autism Spectrum Disorder" (a.k.a. "Autism Spectrum Condition"). This can take various qualitative qualifiers (e.g. with/without language delay, with/without intellectual disability) and an indication of the degree of social/clinical support which may be required.

    It was certainly a controversial move to collapse all of the earlier diagnoses into one, but seems to have been accepted by most clinicians and autistic people (of those who's opinions are known), though with a significant minority dissenting. The main reasoning AFAIK was that the division into separate syndromes was somewhat arbitrary, with many autistic people straddling the diagnoses in ways better described by combinations of the qualifiers and support level.

    'Asperger's Syndrome' is yet more controversial following unambiguous evidence that Hans Asperger cooperated with Third Reich eugenic policies; though it is far less clear to what extent he was under duress or made compromises in order to maximise the number of patients he could save. This all came out too late to have influenced the DSM-V category changes, but has led some people and organisations to deprecate the eponymous label.

    An awful lot of public organisations have also recently completed the replacement of all their "person-first" language regarding "people with autism". This was primarily driven by the preferences of autistic people (again, those who's opinions are known). Reasons given include semantics (e.g. "with" implies the desirability of an impossible "without"), politics (e.g. it is the language of patronising do-gooders), a desire for "normal English", and many other variations upon similar themes.

    Hence, as I mentioned earlier, in the English-speaking world we're all pretty exhausted from arguing about name changes already. And during none of this was the implication of the etymon "autos" ever questioned! I can't help but wonder whether Chinese autistics already have enough to worry about.

  34. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:10 pm

    For completeness, Korean Wikipedia lists 조현병 (調絃病) and 정신분열증 (精神分裂症). The second is the old term. The first appears to mean 'tuning disease', where tuning refers to tuning the chords of a stringed instrument. Perhaps someone else can explain…

  35. Phil H said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:12 pm

    Cognition in Chinese is 认知. There's a character 异 which means different, and doesn't feel too negative, so I think we could capture the sense of neurodiversity by using 异认… then it needs a hypernym. If 症 is inappropriate because it implies a disease, then maybe 态 (situation) or even 心 (mind) would be better.
    So I guess my suggestion woule be 异认心 yi4ren4xin1, differently cognitive mind.

  36. Bathrobe said,

    July 2, 2021 @ 11:23 pm

    Should have checked the Korean through Google Translate:

    It means a state of confusion as if the string instrument is not properly tuned, that is, a disease in which there is an abnormality in the chord.

  37. Chas Belov said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 1:29 am

    @Michael Watts: My Eastern European Jewish immigrant grandmother would not have considered 瘦 positive.

  38. Victor Mair said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 4:02 am

    @Chas Belov

    I know exactly what you mean.

  39. Victor Mair said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 5:15 am

    @Phil H

    yì 異 / 异 (definitions from Google Translate: adjective different; foreign; abnormal; alien; another; dissimilar; diverse; exotic; odd; unlike; novel; bizarre; atypical; surprising; unexpected; unfamiliar; added; mysterious; infrequent; unknown; funny; uncommon; astonishing; curious; sundry; perplexing; remarkable; several; one more; supplementary; extra; new; any more; alternative; further; additional; various noun surprise; nonequivalence; bombshell; revelation; shock; shocker verb split; undo; detach; startle; frighten; scare; break up; separate; divide; disconnect; part)

    I don't think we want to go there.

  40. ~flow said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 5:56 am

    > 疒 is not used for spelling. It is a semantic classifier

    But that is what spelling is, for sure. The American Heritage dictionary defines is as

    a. The forming of words with letters in an accepted order; orthography.

    b. The art or study of orthography.

    There's no reference to phonetics here, only to letters, and that, in my opinion, only because this is an explanation aimed at an English-speaking audience. 'Letters' are to be understood as the 'elements of a writing system'. If we were to insist that 'letters' here mean 'letters of an alphabet' or even 'letters of the (Latin) alphabet' than we could, according to the definition, not speak of 'the spelling of a Japanese word (in hiragana)' or even of 'the spelling of a Hindi word (in Devanagari)' or 'the spelling of an Arabic word (in Arabic script)' because those scripts are classified as syllabaries, abugidas, and abjads, respectively. This is clearly not the way 'spelling' is used in English, surely can one speak of the spelling of a Japanese, Hindi, or Arabic word in their respective writing systems.

    By extension, then, I would like to suggest that 'spelling' and 'orthography' can very well be meaningfully used to refer to the way Chinese characters are composed. If you want to write Ch. song 'pine tree' in characters and you write 木 to the left of 公 (i.e. 松) you've just spelled it correctly. Likewise, I think we can very well say that the common spelling / way of writing of zheng 'symptom' consists in a combination of 疒 'illness' with 正 zheng.

  41. Victor Mair said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 6:18 am

    American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed.:


    a. A written symbol or character representing a speech sound and being a component of an alphabet.
    b. A written symbol or character used in the graphemic representation of a word, such as the h in Thames. See Note at Thames.

    Collins English Dictionary:


    (Linguistics) any of a set of conventional symbols used in writing or printing a language, each symbol being associated with a group of phonetic values in the language; character of the alphabet

    Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010


    a symbol or character that is conventionally used in writing and printing to represent a speech sound and is part of an alphabet.

  42. DMcCunney said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 6:25 am

    I don't know any full Autistics as we think of the condition. I do know an assortment of folks on the spectrum to one degree or another. I'd call one characteristic narrow focus.

    The problem I see in dealing with it is that narrow focus describes not only the degree to which efforts may be focused upon, but the narrow communications bandwidth they can process.

    Much of in person human communication is non-verbal. There is what we say, and our emotional state when saying it. We normally determine a speaker's emotional state by non-verbal cues – facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. People on the spectrum may not perceive those cues. (They may see them, but they are not integrated into the communications process.)

    One on the spectrum chap commented online that he taught himself to "read" faces, but it was hard work. He had to concentrate on seeing the facial expression and determining what it meant, but that used the same foreground communications bandwidth he used to understand what was being said, to the detriment of both. In normal communication, non-verbal cues are processed asynchronously by other parts of the mind to create a full communication. We are aware of and understand the verbal cues without having to consciously consider them.

  43. Scott Mauldin said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 6:33 am

    @Victor Mair I think that in defense of @Ed M's first comment, I think you meant "self-absorbed" as an equivalent of "absorbed with oneself" and thus a simple declaration of the fact of autism, but I think in common usage "self-absorbed" is more akin to "selfish/arrogant" thus having negative moral connotations, hence Ed's taking offense.

  44. Victor Mair said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 6:49 am

    @Scott Mauldin (2nd comment)

    You're right. Thanks.

  45. Bathrobe said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 7:16 am

    Webster says that "self-absorbed" means "absorbed in one's own thoughts, activities, or interests". That is what I have always thought of as the meaning. I was surprised when I found people using it to mean "selfish, self-centred, etc." Since "self-absorbed" has taken on this negative connotation, what word can we use to talk about a person who is totally absorbed in his/her inner thoughts, to the extent that he/she doesn't notice what is going on around him/her? It seems to me we've unnecessarily sacrificed a very serviceable word, given that there are many, many alternatives that can be used to mean "selfish, egotistical, narcissistic" etc.

  46. Bathrobe said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 7:43 am

    @ Not a naive speaker

    The Korean word for 'autism' is the same as Chinese when written in Chinese characters, although pronounced differently.

    The Vietnamese is "bệnh tự kỉ", written 病自己 in Chinese characters, and meaning 'self disease'.

  47. Victor Mair said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 7:50 am




  48. Trogluddite said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 10:38 am

    In what, for want of a better description, I'll call 'neurodiversity jargon', "hyper-focused", "in a flow state", and other such pop-psychological terms are commonly heard as alternatives to 'self-absorbed'. I do agree that it's a shame that the connotation of selfishness has arisen, but feel that it does somewhat skunk the term, as conflation of autism with wilful selfishness is understandably a very sensitive subject to folks who have experienced traumatic bullying because of it. One might also argue that compulsions are not subjectively experienced as "one's own thoughts".

  49. Terry K. said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 11:58 am

    It seems to me in English, there's enough distance from the Greek origin (for auto-) that the word autism is easily taken (for me at least) as saying something about how autism appears, without claim to how accurate that is. Were it called self-ism, the label would much more feel inappropriate. I guess the Greek helps it to feel like a label, not a description. Perhaps the question (or part of it) is how to come up with a label in Chinese that sounds like a label, not a description.

  50. Celena said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 6:01 pm

    I just wanted to give my opinion on the "selfness" of the word autism as someone with autism and who also loves language. I think it makes sense. Referring to the "self" doesn't just mean that you are selfish or self-absorbed, to me it means that you are more concentrated on your own experience than that of other people. We feel things much more deeply, we get affected by smaller things than neurotypical people. Our experience of life is tied to the inner experiences we have.

    If you agree with Simon Baron-Cohen's theory of mind hypothesis about autism (the basic idea is that autistic people have problems putting themselves in other's shoes) then the "auto" makes even more sense here. If autistic people struggle to understand others, both emotionally and mentally, then we are in ourselves more, so to speak.

    I lastly want to touch on the language used around autism and other disabilities, as I am multiply disabled and have previously been active in online disability rights campaigns. There has been a massive backlash from a lot of society concerning both the medicalisation of disabilities (or "disabilities" as some people would say) and the demedicalisation of those same disorders. I do not think that the language of "disorder", "disability", "condition", etc. needs to change. When you look at a typical human being, with the typical anatomy and a typical life, I will differ from that greatly because I have medical disorders that are managed by doctors and medication to help me live a better life. While changing society will help, it is not the cure some people purport it to be. I will still have autism even if the world starts catering to me. I will still not be able to read facial expressions, and I will still have meltdowns over sensory issues that other people have no problems with. The words surrounding disability and ill health have been stigmatised to no end, but I do not think that removing those words will fix the stigmatisation. The best thing is for people to learn that disability is neutral – it is neither a "good" word nor a "bad" word. I have issues that are called "disorders" and it's correct because these are dis-orders: the natural, typical order of my body is not functioning. The solution to ableism isn't to try to pretend that there are no ways medicine can help us, nor is it to avoid using "scary" words. These things only serve to disconnect disabled people further from their own conditions. No matter how utopian a society, I will certainly still be disabled and autistic. I'm fine with that – I am my body, not a separate part of it. The disabilities I have are from my genes and in my bodily structures, and I cannot be separated from them.

    I'm really sorry this accidentally descended into an essay about being disabled and autistic! I wasn't intending on taking it in this direction, but that's the way it went! I am also sorry for any typos/formatting errors; I am a longtime reader but first time commenter, and of course it's on my phone that I make my first comment so I can't tell if I've made any mistakes. And as for a renaming of autism in Chinese, might I suggest asking autistic people in areas of the world where a Sinitic language is the dominant one? If the person who posted this is interested in autistic rights and also speaks a Chinese language, why is this tweet in English to an English speaking audience? If you don't like the word, ask people who are directly affected by the change! I'm sure there's some underground autistic rights movement in China.

  51. Anthony said,

    July 3, 2021 @ 7:34 pm

    I thought perhaps "autopilot" involved "auto" meaning 'self,' but nope: it's just a shortening of "automatic pilot," which preceded it by ~20 years. As with "automobile," I doubt many people know the etymology of "automatic." ("Automatic writing" is a peculiar case since it is specifically not ascribed to the self, but to spectral others).

  52. Peter Taylor said,

    July 4, 2021 @ 2:06 am

    I'm not entirely on board with the trend to extra-positive descriptors, but if such is desired then perhaps "having a rich internal life" (assuming that there are sufficiently unambiguous terms available that this isn't confused with having a diverse intestinal biome).

    Informally, of course, it may be simpler to refer to it as "not mad, my mother had me tested".

  53. bks said,

    July 4, 2021 @ 10:54 am

    What about the negative etymological gloss of "spectrum"?

  54. Chas Belov said,

    July 4, 2021 @ 10:50 pm

    @Peter Taylor:

    I don't know that descriptors need to be ultra-positive. I do think it reasonable to expect that they be neutral.

  55. Chas Belov said,

    July 4, 2021 @ 10:51 pm

    …even as that seems to be a moving target.

  56. ouen said,

    July 5, 2021 @ 2:07 pm

    Sorry to be such a massive pedant but… someone above said they assume 自閉症 entered Japanese from Chinese. It’s actually the other way around. I wonder if the connotation of 自閉症 is somehow different in Japanese? I really doubt it, but I’m less familiar with the nuances of Japanese

  57. Ouen said,

    July 5, 2021 @ 2:10 pm

    Oh I actually misread the above comment! bathrobe was saying correctly that it was borrowed into Chinese FROM Japanese. My apologies! Still, I wonder how autistic people in japan would react to this discussion

  58. Rose Eneri said,

    July 6, 2021 @ 12:15 pm

    In a language that is represented with letters, there are many new words that can be coined that have no prior meaning. Just string together random letters in an order natural to that language. I'm assuming such a method is used by writers of science fiction.

    Make a list of all possible first letters and pick one randomly. Given that selection, make a list of all acceptable following letters and select one randomly, etc. Select the length randomly from a short list of lengths.

    Assuming this process does not result in an existing word, we now have a new name with no prior connotations associated with it.

    I have no idea how such a process would work for a graphically represented language.

  59. Trogluddite said,

    July 6, 2021 @ 4:28 pm

    @Rose Eneri
    What you have described is a Markov chain text generator. For convenience, the probabilities for letter generation are usually calculated by analysing a passage of target text (there are also per-word variants). Here is an entirely free browser-based version for anyone who fancies tinkering with one ('order' is the number of characters taken into account at each step – go lower for more neologisms).

  60. Bathrobe said,

    July 6, 2021 @ 10:49 pm

    @ Rose Eneri

    Off the top of my head, there are three main methods in Chinese:

    1) Combine morphemes (characters) to make a new word (like 自闭症 'self close syndrome'; another example is 话筒 huàtóng 'speaking cylinder', i.e., 'microphone').

    2) Use characters to spell out a word phonetically e.g., 麦克风 màikèfēng, nonsensically meaning 'grain conquer wind', as used to write the borrowed word 'microphone'. It's very unlikely that the Chinese would try to transliterate 'autism' like this — it's not the preferred method of word building, especially as -ism is conventionally rendered with two characters meaning 'principle'.

    3) Make up a new character. E.g., 氢 qīng for 'hydrogen' (气 'gas' + qīng, an abbreviation of 轻 meaning 'light', because hydrogen is the lightest gas). Pretty unlikely that a new character would be created for 'autism'.

    A combination of methods is possible. For example, 'autism' could be rendered as 奥特症 aòtè-zhèng, i.e., 'aote syndrome'. Again not very likely.

    The person quoted by the OP is basically asking for 1), i.e., a combination of existing morphemes (characters) that have a positive meaning.

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