Language matters. You’d think the makers of the world’s preeminent English dictionary would know this better than anybody, but sometimes one wonders.

The Guardian recaps a flap over some of the examples chosen by the Oxford Dictionary of English to demonstrate the usage of particular terms. It started when anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan noted that when illustrating the term “rabid”—“having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something”—the OED used “rabid feminist.” Nice, nice.

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In a post on Medium, Oman-Reagan pointed out a few more unfortunate phrasings. For instance:

“shrill” – defined as “the rising shrill of women’s voices”– and “psyche” – for which the example sentence is, “I will never really fathom the female psyche”. “Grating”, defined as “sounding harsh and unpleasant”, was illustrated with the phrase “her high, grating voice”, while the adjective “nagging” used the example phrase “a nagging wife”.

Always with the nagging from the shrill, grating, unfathomable wives!

It was “rabid feminist” that got the most traction on Twitter. But rather than quickly taking the criticisms to heart, the organization’s Twitter account, @oxfordwords, responded with:

That link notes that:

All the examples sentences throughout the site are real examples of usage. They are taken from a huge variety of different sources, from all parts of the world where English is used, and they reflect a wide spectrum of views and levels of language. Opinions and views expressed in the usage examples are the views of the individuals concerned and are not endorsed by Oxford University Press.

The Oxford Dictionary isn’t responsible for the existence of the “rabid feminist” stereotype. But this isn’t user-generated free-for-all Urban Dictionary—there was presumably some editorial decision involved here.

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At any rate, by day two, it seems that somebody at the company realized this maybe wasn’t the best approach to soothe tempers. The OED says they’ll reconsider their example:

Surely if there’s one thing we can do as English speakers, it’s come together and agree that it’s superfans, over people who believe in basic equality, who truly do not fuck around.


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

Photo via AP Images.