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Dictionary in trouble for combining adjective “rabid” and noun “feminist” in usage example

January 26, 2016

From my latest blog post for the Independent Women’s Forum:

Protesting feminists: Don’t you dare call them “rabid.”

According to the U.K. Guardian, the Oxford Dictionary of English is under attack for its supposedly misogynist “usage examples”: quotations that explain how a particular word is actually employed by speakers or writers.

“The dictionary publisher, part of Oxford University Press, was taken to task by the Canadian anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan, after he noticed that the word ‘rabid’, defined by the dictionary as ‘having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something’, used the example phrase ‘rabid feminist’. Oman-Reagan tweeted about it to the publisher, suggesting they change it.

“Oman-Reagan, who is doing a PhD at the at Memorial University of Newfoundland, also highlighted other ‘explicitly sexist usage examples” in the dictionary; including ‘shrill’ – defined as ‘the rising shrill of women’s voices’– and ‘psyche’ – for which the example sentence is, ‘I will never really fathom the female psyche’. ‘Grating’, defined as ‘sounding harsh and unpleasant’, was illustrated with the phrase ‘her high, grating voice’, while the adjective ‘nagging’ used the example phrase ‘a nagging wife’.

“An example sentence given for ‘housework’ was ‘she still does all the housework’, while a sentence using the word ‘research’ was illustrated with the sentence ‘he prefaces his study with a useful summary of his own researches’.

“’Why does the Oxford Dictionary of English portray women as “rabid feminists” with mysterious “psyches” speaking in “shrill voices” who can’t do research or hold a PhD but can do “all the housework”?’ wrote the academic on Medium. ‘As the Oxford Dictionary says in the usage example for “sexism”: “sexism in language is an offensive reminder of the way the culture sees women”. Shouldn’t the usage examples in this dictionary reflect that understanding of sexism in language?’

“Buzzfeed uncovered further gendered definitions, with usage for the word ‘nurse’ including ‘he was gradually nursed back to health’, and ‘she nursed at the hospital for 30 years’, while examples of usage for doctor all used the male pronoun.”


What’s funny about this food-fight is that the Oxford Dictionary of English (a Webster’s for hipsters not to be confused with the venerable etymology-based Oxford English Dictionary) prides itself on “focusing on English as it is used today,” as its web page states. Thus, all those usage examples that Oman-Reagan’s brigade found so misogynistic come from actual quotations by people using the words in real life.
Posted by Charlotte Allen
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