Stop using OCD as an adjective

May is mental health awareness month. This is of special importance to me because your dear Grammar Party blogger is crazy, psycho, nuts, mad, loony, insane, and any number of unkind labels people call the mentally disordered.

All of these labels can be hurtful, but one use in particular is prodding me onto my soapbox today. This is when people who do not have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) say they are “OCD” about something.

Example: I’m so OCD about keeping my desk clean.
Example: I’m OCD about making sure Fred does his share of the cooking.

OCD is not an adjective. It is not an alternate word for particular or concerned. OCD is a noun. It’s the name of a mental disorder. And I have it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not embarrassed about having OCD. Some people have allergies. Some people need glasses. Some people have OCD. In fact, I think having OCD makes me a better copy editor. I can concentrate on minute details better than others can; and, when people hire me to edit their books, they can be sure I have thoroughly inspected every letter and punctuation mark on every page.

But OCD is not funny, and it’s not a subject to take lightly. It’s a serious disorder. And, much of the time, it’s plain sucky to live with. It keeps me from being able to drive a car because of severe anxiety or leave my apartment without double-checking the doorknobs, as a couple examples.

If I may speak on behalf of others with this disorder, I would ask that if you use OCD as an adjective, consider how that feels to people who actually have it and stop using it that way. If you hear others using OCD as an adjective, please remind them of the proper way to use it—as a noun to represent a serious disorder.

Language is a powerful tool, and sometimes it can be used to hurt people—even without the speaker being aware of the consequences.

Officially stepping down from my soapbox . . . now. Thanks for reading this post.

You can learn more about mental health advocacy at the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

6 thoughts on “Stop using OCD as an adjective

  1. Thanks for this post. I also suffer from OCD, although not to the degree described above. For me, these issues don’t actually prevent me from doing things, but force me to perform them a particular way. For me, it is an inconvenience (sometimes worse than others), but I can see how it could be entirely debilitating in more extreme cases.


    • Thank you for your comment. It’s difficult to be open about being mentally disordered because it sure opens you up for judgement. But I figure that things won’t change unless people make them change, and I hope my little post may make a small impact, at least for a couple people out there.


  2. Thank You for this post! My 15 year old daughter has OCD and people don’t realize how offensive it is when they make those kinds of comments.


  3. I think it depends on the person. I have OCD (and ADHD) and it’s not that offensive. For me (also an editor), I’ll hear someone use OCD as an adjective and it will irk me. That gets my brain chemistry in the right state to dwell on it, and eventually I’ll start to resent those that used OCD as an adjective because they’re all idiots that have no clue what OCD is about (dangling preposition is intentional)! Blah, blah, blah. In reality, I was just irked by a specific use of slang. The same thing happens when someone says “I could care less”. It’s just lazy English. It’s my OCD that turns the comment into something offensive but only in my mind. So now I obsess about not being offended by things like that. Of course, I also obsess about my OCD so you can take this whole post for what it’s worth.

    I guess (to me) it’s like being offended when someone talks about how they suffered while having only one wisdom tooth pulled when you had four pulled. Some folks are really bugged by that.


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