Last Wednesday, anthropologist and Ph.D. student Michael Oman-Reagan noticed something a bit odd about definitions and uses of certain words in the Oxford Dictionary.
When Oman-Reagan looked up the term "rabid" on his computer, it responded with this definition and example sentence: "Having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or believe in something: a rabid feminist." Seems just a tad unnecessary.
On Jan. 20, Oman-Reagan tweeted his observations at Oxford University Press, which owns Oxford Dictionary. "Why is 'rabid feminist' the usage example of 'rabid' in your dictionary -- maybe change that?" he wrote.
As Oman-Reagan pointed out in a post on Medium, the Oxford Dictionary is the default dictionary on Apple's Mac OS X operating system. A Mac computer, iPad and iPhone all use definitions from the Oxford Dictionary.
"Why is [Oxford Dictionary] filled with explicitly sexist usage examples?" Oman-Reagan asked on Medium. "Shouldn’t the usage examples in this dictionary reflect that understanding of sexism in language?"
Oman-Reagan's tweet definitely resonated with Twitter users, who retweeted it over 900 times. The observation prompted others to weigh in on the debate with the hashtag #OxfordSexism.
New Orleans-based writer Nordette Adams made the same observation as Oman-Reagan. In a 2014 blog post she described why pairing the terms "feminist" and "rabid" is so problematic:
The image of the 'rabid feminist' is one conjured and promoted most often by people who don't like feminists... The editors of dictionaries indeed influence human perception of the world and attitudes toward certain objects or phrases. Through examples, it can even shape the meaning of the word feminist when feminist is not the word the reader looks up.
In the days after Oman-Reagan shared his initial observation, he found several other examples of sexist word uses from Oxford Dictionary. He tweeted all of his observations at Apple CEO Tim Cook too, given that Mac devices use Oxford as the default dictionary.
Scroll below to read a few subtly sexist example sentences Oman-Reagan tweeted.
BuzzFeed also found a few more examples of subtle sexism from Oxford Dictionary including the definitions of "nurse" and "doctor." The "nurse" example sentence only used the term as a verb when referring to women: “She nursed at the hospital for 30 years." The "doctor" explanation uses only utilized male pronouns.
Only two days after Oman-Reagan's initial tweets on Jan 22., Oxford Dictionary responded with a tone-deaf and disrespectful tweet.
The company added in another tweet that that "'rabid' isn't always negative, and our example sentences come from real-world use and aren't definitions."
In just a few days, "rabid" became one of the most popular search terms on the Oxford Dictionary website as discussion of the topic picked up steam on social media.
On Jan. 23, the company finally tweeted a real apology, describing their first tweet as "flippant." Scroll below to read the full apology.
On Jan. 25, Oxford University Press issued a statement apologizing for the company's "ill-judged" tweets and said they will be reviewing their example sentence for "rabid" and other terms that Oman-Reagan pointed out.
"We apologise for the offense that these comments caused," the statement read. "The example sentences we use are taken from a huge variety of different sources and do not represent the views or opinions of Oxford University Press. That said, we are now reviewing the example sentence for 'rabid' to ensure that it reflects current usage."
Click through below to read the full #OxfordSexism debate from Oman-Regan and other Twitter users.
Head over to Medium to read more from Oman-Reagan.
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