If you’re a woman, you have probably been called some bad word like the b-word at some point in your life. Unfortunately, one of the places where women get called that word is the dictionary!
A recent petition on change.org is now trying to get the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus of English to remove such sexist and extremely outdated synonyms for the word “woman”.
The petition was started by communications strategist from London Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, and it has already been signed by more than 30,000 people.
The petition tries to literally redefine the way we talk about women. Many of the synonyms for “woman” are actually derogatory, including the b-word.
Other synonyms are both derogatory and archaic, like “bird”, or “wench”. And some are just flat-out sexist, like “frail”, or “baggage”. Other synonyms that the petition tries to get rid off are “chick”, “biddy”, “bint”, “broad”, “piece”, “petticoat”, and so on.
The positive synonyms for “woman” refer to a woman as a “paramour” or a “sweetheart”.
Synonyms are not the only problem, though. The definition of a “man” is much more exhaustive than that of a “woman”, and the examples show women as objects, subordinate, and/or an irritation to men.
According to the petition, seeing the b-word as a synonym for “woman” in the dictionary opens the door for harassment, and it’s completely unacceptable by a reputable source like the Oxford University Press.
Katherine Martin, the head of lexical content strategy at Oxford University Press, addressed the petition in a blog post. According to her, the words are in the dictionary because they’re in our everyday language, and if there’s evidence of an offensive or derogatory word or meaning is widely used in English, it will not be excluded from the dictionary solely on the grounds that is offensive or derogatory. She also noted that offensive words are labeled as such.
She continued by saying that the dictionary is open to change, but it has to come from the people first. The dictionary doesn’t influence the language, but it’s the other way around.
“The relationship between the dictionary and the living language is more like a map than a set of directions; it can tell you the contours of the landscape, but not direct you on where to go or how to get there. As the usage of English speakers changes over time, the dictionary changes to reflect that new lexical terrain”
Well, it seems like the dictionary is not going to remove these synonyms anytime soon. And, at the end of the day, it’s not up to the dictionary to define who we are, but it’s up to people to remove words like the b-word from our vocabulary altogether.