Saturday, January 30, 2016

Oxford Dictionaries agrees usage examples should not be political

After anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan created a stir on Twitter about the Oxford English Dictionary's questionable common usage examples, he discovered that I had written a blog post almost two years earlier discussing the same example he had cited: "a rabid feminist." Consequently, he credited me on Twitter and his own blog and asked that reporters interview me and other women on the topic instead of him.

Due to Michael's fairness, a number of news media websites, such as the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Pajiba, Vox, and SheKnows, have quoted me to explain why Oxford's example for the word "rabid" is troubling.

What's more important, however, is acknowledgment from the head of content creation at OxfordDictionaries.com that our critique of that tome's usage example is valid. She asserts that although the dictionary shows accurately a common usage of "rabid," its example is a poor choice. In her blog post, "How are dictionary examples chosen?," she writes:
. . . the real-life sentence from which the example was taken involved someone denigrating a person described as being a feminist. However, it was a poorly chosen example in that the controversial and impolitic nature of the example distracted from the dictionary’s aim of describing and clarifying meaning.

Multiple female anthropologists and linguists came forward during the protest documenting that they also have written about sexist language in dictionaries in the past, but their objections to such entries went unnoticed, as did mine. Michael agreed that his complaint probably received more attention because he is male. Some will wish to argue whether that conclusion is the case, but in the meantime, I am pleased that the OED is revisiting its common usage choices.


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