In its 'biggest update,' Dictionary.com revises outdated entries on race, sexuality, suicide

The suffix 'ism' in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In its “biggest update ever,” Dictionary.com has added 650 new words and revised more than 15,000 entries, including some with “outmoded” language related to race, sexuality and addiction.

Most notable in the website’s thousands of changes are what it called “deeper revisions” to “put people first.”

“A great many of these entries we’ve updated address topics that touch all of us on the most personal levels: race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, health and wellness,” reads a blog post on the site.

“Change, no doubt, is a prevailing theme of 2020—and change is fundamental to the work of a dictionary.”

The website now capitalizes the word Black in reference to a person’s skin colour, a move that aligns with the capitalization practice of other ethnic groups and grants “due dignity to the shared identity, culture, and history of Black people,” according to the blog post.

The site also updated definitions related to gay people, favouring the use of phrases like “gay man” over “homosexual” and “gay sexual orientation” over “homosexuality,” which has origins in clinical language and is “associated with pathology, mental illness, and criminality,” the site reads.

Previous definitions that used the phrase “commit suicide” have now been replaced with “die by suicide” or “end one’s life.” In an effort to destigmatize addiction, the site has swapped out language such as “addict” in favour of “a person addicted to” or “a habitual user of” a certain drug. 

Among the updates are 650 entirely new entries, or “new words that define the culture, technology, and environment of our times,” including ecoanxiety, emotional support animal and MeToo.

The site’s dictionary editors don’t simply yield to the latest trends, they wrote in the blog post, but instead monitor “lexical changes” for more sustained use.

Here are some of the new words added to the popular site that “define the late 2010s”:

  • Swole: a slang adjective meaning “very muscular” and especially related to a man.
  • Contouring: a style of applying makeup to create definition "along the natural bone structure of the face."
  • MAGA: an abbreviation for “Make America Great Again,” the presidential campaign slogan of U.S. President Donald Trump.
  • Nothingburger: a slang noun referring to something or someone with less impact or significance than may have been expected.
  • Hodophobia: a noun referring to the “irrational or disproportionate fear” of travelling

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