Have You Checked Your Sexist Dictionary Lately?

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about the role of dictionaries: should the definitions be descriptive (conforming to the way in which words are currently used) or proscriptive (in essence, showing how words should be used, according to current standards)?

The esteemed Oxford Dictionaries, including the New Oxford American Dictionary that comes with every Apple device in North America, was outed as being surprisingly sexist in many of its definitions. Here are a few examples:

shrill |SHril|
noun [ in sing. ]
a shrill sound or cry: the rising shrill of women’s voices.

Why were “women’s voices” used as an example? Does nothing else make high-pitched and piercing sounds? Bird calls? Machinery? Brakes? Avoid stereotypes.

rabid |ˈrabəd, ˈrā-|
adjective
1 having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something: a rabid feminist.

In fact, more sports fans than feminists have been defined as rabid, according to linguistic studies. Have I cautioned you to avoid stereotypes?

psyche 1 |ˈsīkē|
noun
the human soul, mind, or spirit: I will never really fathom the female psyche.

Do you see the smoke coming out of my ears? Observe: more smoke coming:

hysterical
adjective
1 Janet became hysterical: overwrought, overemotional, out of control, frenzied, frantic, wild, feverish, crazed;

It’s always Janet, poor, crazy, unhinged Janet. Have you watched a political debate recently? Did you notice any males who could easily fit this description?

bossy 1 |ˈbôsē, ˈbäs-|
adjective (bossier, bossiest) informal
fond of giving people orders; domineering: she was headlong, bossy, scared of nobody, and full of vinegar.

Note the use of the feminine pronoun.

bossy
adjective informal
we’re hiding from his bossy sister: domineering, pushy, overbearing, imperious, officious, high-handed, authoritarian, dictatorial, controlling; informal high and mighty. ANTONYMS submissive.

The brother couldn’t possibly be bossy; but that sister! She is tyrannical.

And finally:

nag 1 |nag|
verb (nags, nagging, nagged) [ with obj. ]
annoy or irritate (a person) with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging: she constantly nags her daughter about getting married | [ with infinitive ] : she nagged him to do the housework

People, this is 2016. Who is editing the dictionary? And why am I haranguing you with this subject? I urge you to be diligent about checking your writing for inadvertent, stereotypical sexism.

If you wouldn’t mention that you saw a man lawyer last week, there is no reason to point out that you happened to see a woman lawyer (and NOT a “lady” lawyer—gentility is irrelevant). Both males and females graduate from law school and pass the bar. The same advice holds for all professions that used to be almost exclusively male but have not been for a very long time: medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, fire fighters, police officers, soldiers, etc. And the reverse holds true: men today commonly are nurses, secretaries and flight attendants.

If you wouldn’t mention your male co-worker’s hair color or his clothes, don’t point out your female co-worker by her red hair—or her blue sweater.

Check your pronouns to make sure they’re inclusive. One easy trick to help you avoid the awkward “his or her” or “he or she” is to make your subject plural and use a plural pronoun to refer to that subject, such as “they” or “their,” for example.

Dentists today do much more than fill their patients’ cavities

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