Oxford English Dictionary has been redefining words over sexism fears

No more nagging wives! Oxford English Dictionary has been redefining words like ‘rabid’ and ‘shrill’ because previous definitions were ‘too sexist’

  • The Oxford English Dictionary has been re-defining words like ‘nagging’
  • The huge project was sparked by a complaint from a Canadian anthropologist
  • Around 500 dictionary definitions have been overhauled over the last few year 

The Oxford English Dictionary has been quietly redefining words like ‘nagging’, ‘rabid’ and ‘shrill’ because previous definitions were deemed too sexist.

Researchers spent four years analysing tens of thousands of sentences to establish whether they ‘unnecessarily perpetuated sexist stereotypes’. 

The huge project was sparked by a complaint from Canadian anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan who noticed the word ‘nagging’ was followed by the example ‘nagging wife’.

 The Oxford English Dictionary has been quietly redefining words like ‘nagging’, ‘rabid’ and ‘shrill’ because previous definitions were deemed too sexist [File photo]

The adjective ‘rabid’ meanwhile was followed by a description of a ‘rabid feminist’.

Earlier this week, the leaders of Women’s Aid and the Women’s Equality Party were among those to sign an open letter calling on Oxford University Press to change its ‘sexist definition’ of the word woman. 

The letter pointed out that synonyms for the word ‘woman’ included ‘b****’ and ‘maid’.

But yesterday the OUP proved it had long been quietly challenging its own sexist definitions. 

The Oxford English Dictionary has been quietly redefining words like ‘nagging’, ‘rabid’ and ‘shrill’ because previous definitions were deemed too sexist

Around 500 definitions have been overhauled over the last few years.

One example was ‘housework’ which was previously followed by the example sentence ‘she was doing the housework’.

Words like ‘s***’ and ‘w***’ are set to be labelled as offensive while ‘spinster’ and ‘frigid’ have been identified as derogatory. 

Katherine Martin, head of language content and data at OUP, said it was important for the dictionary to be in line with political correctness.

‘It’s a mirror, and so it’s really important that it be a reliable, trustworthy, fact-based repository of information about the English language,’ she told the Guardian.

‘If there’s a slur that exists, and it’s widely known, leaving it out would misrepresent the reality of the uses of the language.’

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