You'll find hundreds of files on cleft lip, cleft palate here on widesmiles.org.

This one is about: "Harelip" - The Dark History of an Unfortunate Word


(c) 1996 Wide Smiles
This Document is from WideSmiles Website - www.widesmiles.org
Reprint in whole or in part, with out written permission from Wide Smiles
is prohibited. Email: widesmiles@aol.com

The accepted and appropriate word that defines a birth condition in which facial tissues fail to fuse during gestation is 'cleft'. However, the parent of a cleft-affected child does not go far before hearing the term, 'harelip' instead. And we do not like that term. Why? Isn't it just a word? Most people don't mean anything negative by using it. Well, perhaps knowing the history of the term may help us to understand why it is so inappropriate. And so here, excerpted from an article from WIDE SMILES, is the dark history of the word, 'harelip':

* * * * *

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.


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