Our Everchanging Language
Dictionary.com revisits terms to keep up with our times.
Language changes as we evolve. And we experience changes at a fast pace. During the past six months, while coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have acquired new skills like learning to skateboard and bake sourdough bread. We went over piles of magazines on desktops and finished watching complete catalogs of movies and series online. Also in this period, the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum with demonstrations against police brutality occurring around the world, including Montreal. For the next normal, we have expressed our need for inclusivity, respect for all human lives, and proper care for the environment. In this context, it only made sense for Dictionary.com, the website with over 70 million visitors per month, to conduct a thorough revision of words so their visitors could find relevant definitions.
Over 15,000 entries were changed at Dictionary.com in early September. Among the more notorious changes were, for instance, “homosexual” being changed to “gay.” Now, this does not mean that the word has been deleted, currently when we search for the term “homosexual” a Usage Alert about Homosexual appears. It states the word’s clinical origins and the negative connotations associated with it and suggests referring to the term “gay”. New entries like Antifa, social distance and af were added as well.
“2020 has been a year of change like never before, affecting how we live, work, interact – and how we use language,” said Jennifer Steeves-Kiss, chief executive of Dictionary.com to The Guardian newspaper. “Our biggest release yet represents a tireless commitment from our entire team not only to documenting how language evolves but to ensuring our users always find the meaning they need.”
Another relevant change is the capitalization of the word Black. Dictionary.com explains the update as follows: “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.”
“Our revisions are putting people, in all their rich humanity, first, and we’re extremely proud of that,” said John Kelly, a senior editor at Dictionary.com, in a news release as cited by CNN.
By Lily Olivas