Did you roll your eyes when you saw those two words "politically correct"? I know that's my knee-jerk reaction when I see something referred to as politically correct (pc - not to be confused with personal computer - I know some of you are techno-geeks out there ). More often than not, a politically correct term is some moron exercising their ability to run off at the mouth and spew nonsense. Despite my cynicism that simmers constantly beneath the surface of my brain, there are some pc terms that actually have some merit. No way!, you exclaim. Yes way!, I reply.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that if someone is willing to take the time to explain to me why a pc term is valid and their explanation comes from passion and conviction, I will whole heartedly adopt said term. It is a shocking truth that there is some validity in certain pc terms. You can see it coming, can't you? Oh yes, I am going to enlighten you a pc terms that is near and dear to me. So get your coffee, soda, latte, whiskey, cigarette, or whatever your poison of choice is to get you through.

Before I get into the passion and conviction part of this educational essay, let me give you some history about the term harelip. This comes from a wonderful website that now seems to be defunct, which is a terrible shame. From

In the 16th century, it was a French Doctor who, when discussing a patient with a cleft, first coined the phrase that would be translated, "Lip of the Hare". In English it was more comfortably shortened to "HareLip". It was an unfortunate pairing of similes. The good doctor was only reflecting that the lip was split, as is the lip of a Hare (and every other rodent). But unfortunately for those who were born with a cleft, the hare had also long been associated with witchcraft!

It was believed throughout the dark ages and even to relatively recent times that a witch would often take the shape of a hare. And if a hare were to frighten a pregnant woman, she would give birth to a child bearing the mark.

In the 17th century the hysteria surrounding witchcraft rose to a new and frightening level. And it was during that time that the hare had become a symbol of Satan himself. A woman bearing a child with the mark of the hare, or a harelip, at that time,was thought to have had to have had relations with Satan. And thus, the cleft-affected child born of a woman, say, in Salem Massachusetts during the mid 17th century, in the midst of witchcraft hysteria would have condemned his mother to a violent end. That baby would have constituted "irrefutable evidence" of his mother's unnatural liaison with Satan.

Fast forward now to the 20th Century. Many people still use the term, "HareLip" when they mean to say, "Cleft Lip". Do they associate our children with Satanism and witchcraft? No, surely they don't. But it is nonetheless a term that has persevered in our language, long after a more accurate, more appropriate term has been coined.

At the very least, the term, "HareLip" likens our children to a common field rodent. It is not a soft, fluffy bunny. It is just a rodent. At the very most it harkens back to a darker past. A past that would never have happened were it not for massive hysteria on the part of a superstitious and almost militantly religious population. A past that condemned our children as the Devil's Seed, and condemned their mothers to death.

Wide Smiles was a support organization for parents of children with cleft lips and/or palates. Why would these people need a support group? Because their children will end up going through multiple surgeries in their lifetimes. How do I know?

Many of you who know me can already know how I know. This is the person responsible for my education:


That's The Nephew's baby picture. He was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate. He's had 6 surgeries so far, the first before he was a year old. The first 2 were to close the cleft in his lip. None of them took particularly well. The surgeries healed badly and the scar tissue caused his lip to pull up. Then through Shannon's amazing advocacy, he went to a major university hospital that has special craniofacial teams and they smoothed out his upper lip. The next to last surgery he had was to do the majority of the closure work on his palate.

Today, The Nephew is a gorgeous 14-year old but he's always been a beautiful boy. In fact, after his first surgery, he looked strange to me. I was used to his wonderful open smile. He didn't look like The Nephew with his lip made more "normal". Of course, we all got used to the new lip. The Nephew only has one or two more surgeries to go. The last one was a few years ago and was a bone graft from his hip to completely close the cleft in his palate. The other surgeries he'll have will involve plastic surgery to make his nose more even, more work on his lip, things like that and will only happen if he chooses to undergo them.

Memories of The Nephew with tongue depressors wrapped in foam tape around his arms to keep him from touching his face, sitting up nights with him to help him sleep right after he got home from the hospital, the amazing strength and perserverance this little guy has shown - those are the reasons why I have a problem with the word harelip. It may be said in ignorance these days but it was born out of hatred and fear. To me, it's vile. I am one of those annoying people who will speak to you if you use that word in my presence. But you will hear the passion and the conviction in my voice. I will do my best not to be sanctimonious. You will see pictures of the most amazing little boy to walk the face of this earth. We will part ways smiling and shaking hands. I educate out of love.

*I wrote this in 2004. I've updated it a smidge here and there but left it intact for the most part. It's still relevant today so I didn't want to bury it by posting it under the date it was originally written.
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2 Responses
  1. Melinda Says:

    My cousin was born with the same condition and it is such a horribly long and painful process--for the patient and also the family. Sounds as though your nephew came out of it all in good shape (as did my cousin). A hundred years ago, people died from conditions such a this--and they still do die in under developed countries. In fact, I make a yearly contribution to a health organization that offers free surgeries to children who need them (mostly in under developed countries). It's such a good cause.


  2. Lil Says:

    Melinda - The Nephew's first plastic surgeon would travel to Egypt (his native country, if I'm remembering correctly and I may well not be) to perform plastic surgery on children who would otherwise not been able to have such care. I really admire that. My nephew has been very fortunate in that his cleft was not so severe as many others and that he has had access to good health care (it wasn't easy to get, mind you, but he has a great and dedicated mom). I'd post a current picture of him but he's specifically asked me not to post his current picture on the internet. Gotta respect his wishes. Thanks for reading and commenting. :-)

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