Finding The Right Words

Guidelines for changing the language around and portrayal of stammering.

For many years, stammering  has been used to portray people with character flaws, physical inadequacies and for comic purposes. This stereotyping has real-world consequences for people who stammer. Incorrectly perceived as weaker and less able than fluent people, we're often met with negative and inappropriate responses to our speech.  

People who stammer can be memorable, compassionate and thoughtful, often brilliant with words and fantastic communicators. What would the world be like without Lewis Carroll, Margaret Drabble or Somerset Maugham? Or Samuel L. Jackson, Carly Simon and Emily Blunt? All people who stammer.


Words matter. They shape how we see ourselves, how others see us and the world we live in. We want an end to the use of the words 'stammering' and 'stuttering' as shorthand for failure or poor performance. We want the language that’s used around stammering to be carefully considered.  

That's why we've created a set of Guidelines For Talking About Stammering, which you can read below. You can also download them. See the Downloads section on this page.

Stammering is simply the way some of us talk. We aren't nervous or inadequate. Our voices should be heard and valued. We want the media to ensure that stammering voices are heard on TV, radio and film. Not in the context of how someone has 'overcame' a stammer, was defeated by it, or how they cured it. But as part of the rich pattern of accents and voices that make up all content.  


You can help educate those around you. Put the guidelines on the noticeboard at work, college or uni. Email them to your local radio station. If the guidelines are crossed, let people know why they exist. If you work in the media and are planning a programme around stammering, please share these guidelines with those involved. 

Let's create a world where stammering is accepted as a difference. So that all those who follow can grow up and live in a world where they are treated with respect and dignity.  

Want to get more involved? Become a STAMMA Member for free, see page on Being A Stammering Ally, and get involved with our Campaigns.


Don't use negative words

  • People do not 'suffer from' and are not 'afflicted by' stammering. They stammer and live with it.
  • A stammer is not a 'weakness' or 'a defect'. It is simply a stammer.
  • A stammer is not 'terrible' or 'debilitating'. Moments of stammering might last longer for some.
  • People don't 'defeat' or 'overcome' their stammer. They 'manage' it.

Don't use stammering as a pejorative description. It reinforces the idea that it is bad, and something people shouldn't do. There are other words to describe a failing politician, project or football match.

Unhelpful Assumptions

  • That people who stammer want to sound fluent. Some don't, some do.
  • That they should learn to breathe properly. Breathing techniques may help some people manage a stammer; they don't remove the condition.
  • That there is no longer a struggle to speak if the stammer isn't obvious or occurs less often.
  • That they can't communicate properly. Many who stammer are adept wordsmiths. Some of our best speakers, actors, writers and poets stammer; with an appreciation of words shaped by their stammer.
  • That stammering is a negative trait. It isn't, it's how some people talk.
  • That it is surprising they excel in their work. Stammering isn't a reflection of competence or intelligence.
  • That people 'grow out of their stammer'. Some people continue to stammer throughout their lives, others don't.

Unhelpful Responses

  • Don't make a joke when someone stammers.
  • Don't assume that they're nervous or need to take a breath.
  • Don't pity someone who stammers. This may or may not capture how they feel about their stammer.
  • Don't describe someone's stammer as "really bad today". It suggests that they're failing in some way when all they're doing is talking.
  • Don't congratulate someone who stammers on their fluency. It reinforces the idea that they should strive not to stammer, and that stammering is bad. It isn't, it is how some people talk.

The best thing to do for someone who stammers is to not mind that they stammer.

If you would like to download these guidelines, see the Downloads section on this page.