One of the world’s most prominent and authoritative English language dictionaries has amended the definition and connotations of the word ‘woman’ to match the current standards of gender identity.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), published by the Oxford University Press (OUP) has updated the definition of the word ‘woman’ to uproot the same from the ‘sexist’ connotations, it has traditionally carried.
The change included identifying ‘woman’ as “a person’s wife, girlfriend, or female lover”, rather than only a man’s. The amendment also included phrases such as ‘woman of the moment’ to match age-old sayings like ‘man of the moment.’
The update has also added ‘derogatory,’ ‘dated’ or ‘offensive’ labels to words listed as a synonym to the word ‘woman’ like ‘bitch’ and ‘bint.’
This comes after a push from petitions that demanded shedding the ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynistic’ attachments to the word woman. OUP says they have updated the definitions to make them more ‘positive and active.’
“We have ensured that offensive synonyms or senses are clearly labeled as such and only included where we have evidence of real-world usage,” the Oxford University Press said to CNN in a statement.
The update of the word ‘man’ also got a gender-neutral overhaul, matching with the updated definition of woman. Other terms related to activity and sexuality have also been changed.
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Other words like ‘housework’ were also updated to shed the stereotypical gender-specific identity of the word. “She still does all the housework,” was changed to “I was busy doing housework when the doorbell rang,” CNN reported.
The OUP said its lexicographers regularly review entries to ensure they-re up to date with the current standards. And this recent change was bought about after pushing from activists, a company spokesperson told CNN in an email.
Oxford University Press says the internal team made the changes following an “extensive review” of entries for ‘woman’ and many other related terms”.
A Change.Org petition from last year triggered the review for the word ‘woman’ and similar other terms alleging sexism in the definition. Tens of thousands signed the petition in 2019.
The campaigners argued examples in Oxford University’s earlier definitions of the word “show women as sex objects, subordinate, and/or an irritation to men.”
‘Ms. September will embody the professional, intelligent yet sexy career woman,’ read one early example of ‘woman.’ ‘I told you to be home when I get home, little woman’, the other definition read.
These definitions do not appear in the OED but they do appear in other reference books produced by the publishers and the online dictionary Lexico, which derives definitions from the OED.
The petition also pointed out the definition of ‘man’ in the dictionary is more exhausted with over 25 definitions, compared to only 5 for a woman.
“These misogynistic definitions have become widespread because search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo license the use of Oxford Dictionaries for their definitions,” campaigner argued.
Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, who started the 2019 petition that leads to the change says she is still disappointed that the word bitch is defined as a “spiteful, unpleasant, or disliked woman” and continues to be listed as a synonym, albeit now labeled as “offensive”.
Whereas the word ‘dickhead’ defined as “as a stupid, irritating, or ridiculous man” is considered a ‘vulgar slang’ is not enlisted in the synonyms for men.
The OUP said their dictionaries “reflect, rather than dictate, how language is used. This is driven solely by evidence of how real people use English in their daily lives.
“This independent editorial approach means that our dictionaries provide an accurate representation of language, even where it means recording senses and example uses of words that are offensive or derogatory, and which we wouldn’t necessarily employ ourselves,” an OUP spokesperson was quoted as saying.
The organization says the recent update comes as a part of the ongoing effort to “re-examine” language and make it fit for a “modern audience.”
In June, major US dictionary Merriam Webster updated the term ‘racism’ to better reflect the modern connotations, after a young Black woman suggested the need for change.