the battle towards dictionary phrases for ‘girl’


Consider the phrase “girl” and do you routinely assume “bitch”? Or hussy, baggage or bit? These are, based on varied conventional dictionaries, synonyms for “girl”, which got here as a little bit of a shock to Maria Beatrice Giovanardi as she typed the phrase right into a search engine one night time in January. Giovanardi was looking for inspiration as she tried to call a brand new challenge for the ladies’s rights group she was concerned with and was on the lookout for different phrases for “girl”. What she found as an alternative was a wealth of derogatory entries. “They’re offensive and I don’t imagine they’re synonyms for ‘girl’,” she says. “I don’t perceive why they’re there.”

Giovanardi began trying into it extra deeply, utilizing the default dictionaries on totally different search engines like google. And she or he started to discover whether or not males got related remedy. They weren’t – essentially the most derogatory synonym for “man” given by dictionaries she discovered have been “bozo” and “geezer”. She was alarmed, too, by the instance sentences given under the definitions. Many, she observed, have been themselves sexist, involving stereotypes and centring males. “I advised you to be residence after I get residence, little girl,” is one from Oxford Dictionaries.

Final week, Giovanardi launched a petition to get dictionary makers – notably Oxford College Press (OUP), which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary, in addition to Oxford Dictionaries, the supply utilized by Apple and Google – to chop sexist illustrative sentences and derogatory phrases. “To not take away them from the dictionary, however take away them from below ‘girl’,” she says. “Historical past is vital, however these are simply not synonyms of girl. Bitch might be within the dictionary, but it surely shouldn’t be below girl in my view.”

Her name was shared on Twitter by the Fawcett Society. “The language we use is basically framed and decided by the patriarchal society by which we dwell,” says Sam Smethers, the organisation’s chief govt. “The truth that derogatory phrases are related to the phrase ‘girl’ signifies how biased our language might be.” We have to change, she says, “the best way we consider one thing as vital and as elementary because the phrase girl”.

On Lexico, the positioning run by Oxford Dictionaries and, synonyms for ladies embrace bitch, baggage, piece and filly. The instance sentences chosen for example utilization are weird. “One in every of his subtle London ladies” is one, as if the girl exists solely in relation to, and as a possession of, the person. One other reads: “The concept that ladies are actual human beings with ideas and feelings is performed down.”

For “man”, the examples are much more spectacular. “I’m as bold as the following man”; “A battle for energy between a union man and an mental is looming”. Different examples below “man” make unnecessarily sexist factors about ladies. “She was extra of a person than any of them,” is one; “It needs to be the type of manly factor I get my man to do, however he leaves computer systems to me” is one other – each implying that ladies are the weaker, extra cowardly, extra silly gender.

The examples of utilization are higher on the Collins dictionary web site (the dictionary utilized by the Guardian), together with “she was a senior BBC girl”, but it surely additionally affords offensive slang names together with “ho” as a synonym for “girl”. The worst synonym for “man” Collins may give you is dude or geezer.

On the Merriam-Webster dictionary web site, the fourth definition of “girl” is a servant and the fifth is a spouse or mistress. The definitions of man embrace “an alumnus of or scholar at a school or college” – as in a Cambridge man – although this isn’t a definition that’s prolonged to ladies.

Giovanardi says “the dictionary is essentially the most primary basis of language”, however Deborah Cameron, a professor of language and communication at Worcester School, Oxford, takes difficulty with this. “It isn’t, it’s a document of the language, what we now have stated and written over time, or extra notably what males have stated and written over time,” she says. The OUP just isn’t going to take a lot discover of the petition, “or at the least they’re not going to hearken to the [idea that] it’s best to use the dictionary to eradicate sexism. They’re going to say: if there’s sexism on this planet, in historical past, it’s our job to document that.”

“In the event you have a look at the entry within the Oxford English Dictionary,” says Cameron, “one sense of ‘girl’ that has numerous illustrative quotes is as a person’s possession. And that mirrored the regulation – males did personal ladies and so utilization grew from that. There are an enormous load of entries that mainly imply prostitute.”

Nonetheless, she says, there’s a distinction between a dictionary used as a scholarly reference – the OED being the prime instance – and an off-the-cuff dictionary and thesaurus put in as a default in your cellphone or laptop computer, or those utilized by Google. “I can’t see any motive in any respect why that specific listing of synonyms ought to seem in a dictionary that individuals are not utilizing to analysis the historical past of tradition, which is what they might use the massive OED for. If it’s going to comprise synonyms, together with out-of-date and derogatory ones, I don’t know what objective they serve in that context.” In additional complete works, delicate phrases are marked as offensive. On the definitions of “girl” that Google and Yahoo throw up, “We’ve bought no steerage on utilization in any respect. Anybody who does assume bitch is a straight synonym for girl goes to seek out themselves moving into fights.”

The place critical reference dictionary editors do have energy, she says, is within the alternative of instance sentences. “[The entry for ‘woman’] was revised in 2011, and I did assume that a number of the selections they made from illustrative examples from latest years have been a bit odd,” she says. The instance the OED has for the broad definition of girl, taken from a 2009 New Yorker article, is: “A solitary middle-aged girl … was watering her garden in hip-hugging Capri denims.”

In 2016, Michael Oman-Reagan, an anthropologist, highlighted sexist instance sentences utilized in Oxford Dictionaries for phrases that had nothing to do with ladies – below “rabid”, for example, was “rabid feminist”. On the time, a spokesperson for OUP stated they might evaluation the examples. OUP, Merriam-Webster and Collins had not responded to requests to touch upon this text by the point of going to press.

A dictionary is rarely impartial, says Lindsay Rose Russell, an affiliate professor of English on the College of Illinois and the creator of Ladies and Dictionary Making. “At greatest, it’s a snapshot of a language in a given second, from a given perspective. Dictionary makers deliver private, social {and professional} ideologies to their tasks. Traditionally, a fantastic many English dictionaries had sturdy Christian views … usually with sturdy doses of misogyny, androcentrism, racism, Anglocentrism, homophobia and so forth.”

But ladies have lengthy been concerned in creating dictionaries, she says. “Within the historical past of English lexicography, you’ll find a 15th-century abbess credited with a glossary of hawking and looking, a 17th-century teenage lady who penned a dictionary of girls’s style, an 18th-century bluestocking who printed one of many first and most influential thesauruses [British Synonymy], and 20th-century feminists who reinvented lexicography not solely by avoiding androcentric and sexist definitions, however by centring dictionaries as a scene of social battle and political potential.”

Within the 1970s and 80s, says Cameron, “there was this entire motion to de-authorise the dictionary” – or “dick-tionary”, as the novel feminist Mary Daly described it (n. “any patriarchal dictionary”) in her dictionary, Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language. “Now what folks do is foyer the authority,” says Cameron. “They don’t query the authority in any respect. Whereas the previous feminist approach was to attempt to deconstruct the entire authority of the dictionary.”

Cheris Kramarae was one of many creators of A Feminist Dictionary, which, though printed in 1985, got here out of girls’s group conferences she was attending within the late 60s and 70s. “Ladies have been assembly in conscious-raising teams and dealing in ladies’s research and realising that males appeared to have the monopoly on the supposedly one true view of the world,” says Kramarae, a visiting professor on the Middle for the Examine of Ladies in Society on the College of Oregon. “Relatively than pondering there was one true view of the world, [we thought] males haven’t any monopoly on that and neither do ladies. That’s the explanation we included quite a lot of definitions. Lately, we’d be extra more likely to problem not solely the so-called male ‘reality’, but additionally the white ‘reality’, and the roles of black research, and LGBTQ activism [around] the binary and the critique of that.” Language just isn’t, she says, “a impartial provider of our concepts – our understanding is our language and phrase selections are our concepts”.

Her and her colleagues’ intention was to problem the standard dictionaries’ content material and authority. “We have been involved concerning the very widespread, damaging perception that conventional dictionaries are the first data of language use,” she says. “And they’re inhospitable to ladies. We labored on A Feminist Dictionary as a result of we knew that conventional dictionaries are removed from being correct and representational data of the language utilization of most of us. But they’re handbooks sanctioned by each stage of education. They’re, actually, devices of social management which disguise and depress the linguistic confidence and creativity of most audio system and writers.” What was the response? She laughs. “Everywhere. Anthony Burgess wrote a extremely damning evaluation, which we have been delighted with as a result of he was one of many folks we’d wish to interact and name consideration to our work.”

What good do feminist dictionaries and campaigns do? Can society be modified by altering the language? “I feel they occur collectively,” says Cameron. “I don’t assume altering language by itself often works, however I wouldn’t say language is unimportant. Language is a approach by which new meanings or objections to previous meanings are transmitted, so it does matter.” Russell says: “I do assume that utilizing language carefully generally is a means to bettering our personal desirous about the world and our interactions in it.”

Dictionaries are now not dusty reference books – we supply them on our telephones in our pockets; search engines like google tacitly endorse no matter definition they serve up from no matter supply they’ve licensed (presumably essentially the most cost-effective one). As Kramarae factors out, “Now the defective and hurtful definitions and classes are being constructed into synthetic intelligence techniques that separate, classify and rank folks by means of automated and unaccessible processes.”

We should always, says Russell, “be extra bold in our dictionary criticism. I do assume that campaigns akin to this one begin productive discussions about phrases and their meanings. We must care what definitions are made most available and why.”


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