Oxford Dictionary accused of sexism

The Oxford English Dictionary.
The Oxford English Dictionary. PHOTO: BBC WORLD

LONDON • The publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary will review the examples that it gives in defining the word "rabid", it said, after a sexism row over its usage of "rabid feminist" as a sample phrase.

Oxford Dictionaries, part of the Oxford University Press, also apologised on Monday for an "ill-judged" reply over Twitter to Canadian anthropologist Michael Oman-Reagan, who criticised the dictionary for the sample and other "explicitly sexist usage examples", reported Britain's The Guardian.

Mr Oman-Reagan, a doctoral student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, also pointed out that part of the definition for the word "shrill" included "the rising shrill of women's voices" and the example sentence for the word "psyche" was: "I will never really fathom the female psyche."

The word "grating" was defined as "sounding harsh and unpleasant" and had as an example "her high, grating voice". The word "nagging" was illustrated with "a nagging wife" as an example.

For the word "housework", an example was "she still does all the housework". However, the word "research" was accompanied with: "He prefaces his study with a useful summary of his own researches."

"Why does the Oxford Dictionary of English portray women as 'rabid feminists' with mysterious 'psyches' speaking in 'shrill voices' who can't do research or hold a PhD, but can do 'all the housework'?" wrote the academic on blog-publishing platform Medium, according to The Guardian.

The criticism received an initial dismissive response from Oxford Dictionaries, with the publisher tweeting: "If only there were a word to describe how strongly you felt about feminism… "

"Our example sentences come from real-world use and aren't definitions," another tweet added.

But it later apologised for the "flippant" tone of the tweets, after the word "rabid" became the most searched on its site over the weekend and Mr Oman-Reagan was subjected to abuse from netizens.

"We apologise for the offence that these comments caused," said an Oxford University Press statement, quoted by The Guardian on Monday. "We are now reviewing theexample sentence for 'rabid' to ensure that it reflects current usage."

It added that it would review the other examples he cited.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Oxford Dictionary accused of sexism'. Print Edition | Subscribe