Dictionary.com recently announced “its biggest update ever,” adding 650 new entries and updating definitions and origins of more than 15,000 words and phrases. Some of the revisions stem from a social agenda, while others simply reflect new words and meanings that develop and gain usage over time.
Billing itself as “the world’s leading digital dictionary,” Dictionary.com said many of the changes were related to race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender, health and wellness, climate change, and internet culture.
Changes related to race and ethnicity include the decision to capitalize Black when it refers to people. The company said, “Capitalizing Black confers the due dignity to the shared identity, culture, and history of Black people. It also aligns with the practice of using initial capital letters for many other ethnic groups and national identities, e.g., Hispanic.”
Dictionary.com also said, “What’s more, our lexicographers developed a whole new entry for Black in reference to people, separating that meaning from the lowercase word black whose dozens of definitions range from senses extending from a core meaning of darkness, to related senses involving dirt, and even metaphorical uses involving evildoing.”
The company explained that listing the word separately, when it referred to people, was important, “How words are entered into the dictionary—especially words concerning our personal identities—have real effects on real people in the real world.
With regard to words about sexuality and gender, a number of terms were added and redefined. In making these changes, Dictionary.com said it followed guidance from activist groups like GLAAD, an LGBT media monitoring organization, and the American Psychological Association (APA), which relies heavily on its Division 44, The Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.
The changes were made to “help eliminate heterosexual bias in language” and to “better convey the diversity and richness of … human sexual experience and identity.”
One of the biggest changes in this area has to do with terms like homosexual and homosexuality. Dictionary.com suggests avoiding these terms, which “originated as clinical language” and were seen as “scientific and unbiased.”
Now, however, they are “associated with pathology, mental illness, and criminality, and so imply that being gay – a normal way of being – is sick, diseased, or wrong.” The words are labeled “Often Disparaging and Offensive” by the online resource.
Instead of using homosexual, the dictionary prefers the terms gay, gay man, or gay woman. And instead of homosexuality, Dictionary.com suggests using gay sexual orientation.
Each change means dozens of other words were redefined. So instead of gayness referring to the “outmoded” word homosexuality, the new definition gives the meaning, “gay or lesbian sexual orientation or behavior.”
Definitions and usage for bisexual were changed, too. Dictionary.com now says, “As with many other labels used to describe people, the adjective form is preferred over the noun form, and the noun, while acceptable in the plural, can be offensive in the singular.”
The note explains that bisexual used to refer to “romantic, emotional, or sexual attraction to two, and no more than two, genders, specifically men and women.” Now however, it connotes “a level of sexual fluidity in which an individual moves bidirectionally along a spectrum of sexuality. This newer sense accounts for attraction to people who do not fall within the gender binary.”
“Discover many more LGBTQIA-related terms in our update, such as ace, ambisextrous, asexual, biromantic, deadname, gender-inclusive, gender diversity, and trans+,” Dictionary.com suggests.
While some of the words that were added or redefined seek to shape thinking about issues like race and sexuality, others are more innocuous. For example, amirite is “an informal variant spelling of the phrase “am I right” used to elicit agreement or solidarity at the end of an observation, or used facetiously to undermine or mock the preceding observation.”
And to sharent is “to frequently use social media to share photos or other details and information about one’s child.” The word can also be used as a noun, referring to a parent who does so.
Dictionary.com says, “Change is constant, a principle that’s true in language as in life.” Some of those language changes are driven by events. Earlier this year, the company added and updated many terms related to COVID-19 and to the protests and riots that followed the death of George Floyd.
But other revisions, like the new and updated terms about sexuality, are activist-driven in an effort to alter thinking and beliefs about those issues.
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