Racial unrest, Covid-19 spur dictionary website to revise thousands of words

02 September 2020 - 15:05 By Barbara Goldberg
Dictionary.com has revised thousands of words to reflect the social upheaval and racial unrest of 2020. Stock image.
Dictionary.com has revised thousands of words to reflect the social upheaval and racial unrest of 2020. Stock image.
Image: 123RF/Iulian Dragomir

Dictionary.com, which boasts 70 million monthly users, on Tuesday announced its biggest ever revision, with more than 15,000 words updated, many to reflect the social upheaval and racial unrest of 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world added a raft of new words to many English speakers' everyday vocabularies, from technical labels like asymptomatic to behavioural terms like social distance.

“The unprecedented events of 2020, from the pandemic to the protests, have profoundly changed our lives — and language,” the site said in a press release.

Many of the more than 15,000 words that have been added or updated on Dictionary.com could be gathered under a single word: respect. They reflect changing ways society addresses race, sexual orientation, mental health and other issues.

The website is capitalising Black in its entries and created a separate entry for a Black person, which “aligns with the practice of using capital letters for many other ethnic groups and national identities, for example Hispanic”.

The George Floyd protests against racism and police violence “sparked a surge of searches that spoke to the power and passion of the cultural moment,” Dictionary.com said.

Outreach from the gay community resulted in the decision to use “gay, gay man or gay woman” to replace references to “homosexual” and to substitute “gay sexual orientation” for “homosexuality,” Dictionary.com said.

“Homosexual” and “homosexuality” were terms once perceived as scientific and unbiased but have become “associated with pathology, mental illness and criminality, and so imply that being gay — a normal way of being — is sick, diseased or wrong,” Dictionary.com said.

The changes include 650 new entries, 2,100 new definitions, more than 11,000 revised definitions and 1,700 new pronunciations. The update involves 1,200 new etymologies and more than 7,000 revised etymologies, which explain how a word came into existence and how its meaning may have changed throughout history. -Reuters