The Dictionary Has Offensive Entries, and It Should

The latest uproar in LGBT-land is an offensive definition of “gay” in Apple’s dictionary. In a move right out of 1984, my fellow gays and allies are demanding that Apple remove the offensive definition from their dictionaries. They’re wrong, and an attempt to change a canonical source of language over an offensive definition is far more offensive than the definition itself.

What’s a dictionary? To trot out a tired phrase, the dictionary defines dictionary as:

a book or electronic resource that lists the words of a language (typically in alphabetical order) and gives their meaning, or gives the equivalent words in a different language, often also providing information about pronunciation, origin, and usage:

What a dictionary *isn’t* is a normative look at what we desire words to mean. There are a LOT of offensive entries in the dictionary, and Apple isn’t the culprit. Not sure of their source, but I found the same definition of “gay” in the Oxford English Dictionary. But here’s one that’s worse. Check out some of the definitions for “woman“:

  • a female worker or employee.
  • a wife, girlfriend, or lover:he wondered whether Billy had his woman with him
  • a female paid to clean someone’s house and carry out general domestic duties.
  • a peremptory form of address to a woman: don’t be daft, woman

So according to the dictionary, women are employees, girlfriends, possessions, maids, and often daft. I’m more offended by that than I am by the definition of “gay.” But let’s not shove those usages into the memory hole and pretend they don’t exist. Knowing they exist is an important part of our language. Pretending they don’t is a travesty.

One Reply to “The Dictionary Has Offensive Entries, and It Should”

  1. Greetings Friend,

    I found this because my name is also Gregory Palmer and I was searching myself via the google+ find yourself in their security settings. This popped up and I had a read, Great New Years Resolution BTW, I made that a few years ago and it’s difficult to stick too.

    I am a little confused about the complaint about the “Gay” definition and you may be able to help me understand it’s offence, in dictionary terms I mean. To use the word “Gay” in the sense that Apple used it (assuming it was derived in that defined term from a negative view of homosexuals) may be an offencive remark with or without it’s usage even being known in it’s meaning. IE “This movie is Gay” is a saying that has been around for a long time and of course it is offencive, assuming again that the usage was modified / created because of a negative view of homosexuality.

    MY point is actually quite simple, it’s usage in that form is offencive and well understood…. at least understood to a portion of the population. Many say it without a clue of it’s negative origin and it’s implied offensive gesture.

    The point of the dictionary is to provide the reader with the information they are looking for, in it’s usage. To the point, a young person, ESL, someone who is exploring its usage, etc would NEED that definition in order to come to their own conclusion that it may be offencive.

    If my daughter heard “That movie was just Gay” from her friends after a movie and never heard it used in that phrase or from anyone else from her private school, she is more likely to look it up, and if she does not see THAT definition and concludes that her friends ment happy, or “lighthearted and carefree” and remain ignorant, even possibly using the term, without intended offence because she was unable to understand it’s intended usage.

    So I would suspect that it’s first definition “Homosexual” and then the definition you are talking about “informal “foolish; stupid” with a sentence example of ” Making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule.” provides the necessary truth that people do inappropriately use the word
    and come to their own conclusion that it is offence.

    In my perspective someone who comes to the conclusion themselves, before being told that their usage of it was “taken” offencive or is improper, is necessary for critical thinking and development. Any other suggestion that it should be removed as if it doesn’t exist would only limit cultures growth, as he story does read it was found by a 15 year old Catholic school girl. It is actually less insulting (more informative) the a term “God”is used as “a myth about the god of war” for someone who is a viking….

    Thanks for your help in enlightening me, when people go hog wild in labeling things improper and insulting it tends to go against them, like the church and Christianity vigorously fighting, prayer in school, evolution even dinosaurs. What they are fighting for, the fight itself works against them, BIG TIME..

    Thanks Again

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