Words have power. Language has consequences and goes beyond being simply an exercise we use to communicate—how and what we communicate is contextually pertinent. And in such socially relevant times when words and meanings are constantly being updated to reflect better and more inclusive language, Dictionary.com is making major changes by revising over 15,000 definitions.
On September 1, the website—which describes itself as the world’s leading digital dictionary—released what it called its largest-ever update. The revision includes 650 new entries, with thousands of new revised definitions, etymologies, and pronunciations. It has refined and added terms related to race, identity, sexual orientation, and mental health—highlighting the evolution of the English language over time. The update is a reflection of the significant year of change in language, as can be seen from their addition of whole-person language for suicide and addiction to new additions that capture trends in pop culture.
In one of its many requisite updates, it capitalised “Black”, affecting hundreds of entries across the dictionary—and added a separate entry for “Black”—as a mark of respect and recognition. Additionally, it added several new words relating to race and ethnicity: for example, Afro-Latinx, brownface, and Pinay.
LGBTQ+ language site-wide was revised too—”homosexual” was changed to “gay” and “homosexuality” to “gay sexual orientation”. The changes were made to the previously clinical language, they say, which now places the focus on people and eradicates the implication of a medical diagnosis, or sickness when describing normal human behaviours and ways of being.
Additionally, words related to sexuality, such as bisexual and pansexual, were updated from "romantically or sexually attracted to" to "romantically, emotionally, or sexually attracted to." Other changes include ace, deadname, Pride, themself, and trans+. The broadening of definitions and changes in terminologies helps remove heterosexual bias and better reflects the complexity of the experiences of these identities.
The language used around suicide and addiction was also updated to eliminate definitions that involved moral judgement or incorporated historical prejudice. “Commit suicide” was removed and replaced with “die by suicide” and “end one's life”. All instances of “addict” as a noun were replaced with “person addicted to” or “habitual user of”.
“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. How we talk about race, sexuality, mental health changes with time, and dictionaries play a major role in documenting and directing the change. Senior editor John Kelly agrees: “The work of a dictionary is more than just adding new words. It’s an ongoing effort to ensure that how we define words reflects changes in language—and life. Our revisions are putting people, in all their rich humanity, first.”
There are several new entries for the different types of animals that help people physically, emotionally, and cognitively, such as assistance animal and comfort animal. While a number of these terms may be used interchangeably, and many of them serve similar roles, there are distinct differences in linguistic terms in the definitions. Other additions and updates include ones affected by pop culture, such as abbreviations like af, DGAF, and GOAT; slang terms like amirite and jabroni; jargon related to the environment like ecoanxiety and conservation status; and complex societal issues like emotional labor and me-too.
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