“a devout lactose-intolerant”

Today I edited an article which described someone as “a devout lactose-intolerant”. The first question is whether we can or should describe anyone as “a lactose-intolerant”, in the the same way as we might “a diabetic”, which has comfortably made the leap from adjective to noun. Can we? Obviously. Should we? Most style guides prefer the ‘person-first’ style: a person who is lactose-intolerant, or a person who has/with (a) lactose intolerance.

The second question is whether we can describe a person who is lactose-intolerant as “devout”. Devout is more often used to describe beliefs or behaviours. I can imagine someone being a devout vegetarian or vegan, or devoutly following a lactose-free diet, but being lactose-intolerant is not a belief or behaviour.

This person’s company’s website describes him as “a lactose intolerant guy”, and there is no recorded use of “a devout lactose-intolerant” or anything like it on the internet (but there will be in a few minutes, right here).

I asked my journalist colleague who wrote the article what he meant, and he said he didn’t know; he took that directly from the material the person (or someone at his company) had sent him. We discussed various options, then I decided to keep those words, but in quotation marks. [Update: in the end, that whole story was scrapped for reasons of space.]

And until I checked the definition, I had no conscious knowledge that devout is related to devoted.

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2 thoughts on ““a devout lactose-intolerant”

  1. As an aside, the food writer Harold McGee notes what we call “lactose intolerance” is a misnomer; only a minority of human adults (essentially, those descended from Northern European stock) continue to generate the enzyme lactase after weaning and can therefore digest milk. In most parts of the world, milk is consumed by adults, if at all, in some sort of pre-digested way — cheese, yogurt, etc. It really should be called “lactose tolerance” and noted as an anomaly in human development.

    Not that relevant to your point, really, but I’ve thought about this a lot since I first encountered it in McGee’s writings.

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  2. Mike –
    Thanks for that information. As a sub-editor, I don’t need to know the details, just if any of the information in the article is obviously wrong, or very strange (like ‘devout lactose-intolerant’).

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