Oxford Dictionary cleaning up sexist language

March 9th, 2020 by Jane Turner

Brilliant news today – The OED are cleaning up sexist language!

The Oxford English Dictionary, or OED, that bible and bastion of all things British English, has begun looking into their sample sentences for sexist language. YAY! No more nagging wives or rabid feminists!  Can I have a cheer?!



The Guardian reports, “After extensive research, reference publisher is quietly replacing examples that ‘unnecessarily perpetuate stereotypes’ – while also reflecting how language is used.”

The article states, “People were talking about stereotypes being perpetuated by example sentences. That was something we’d never considered before,” said Katherine Martin, head of language content and data at Oxford University Press.” (Publishers of the OED)

After extensive research at the OED over a period of years, they’ve confirmed that yes, there is quite a bit of sexism in their example sentences! Shocker. Absolute shocker. Why, you’d think these things were governed by old, white men!  Hmm…

Yes, dictionaries can reinforce stereotypes.  For those who haven’t read their dictionary in a while, example sentences are given to show how the specific word can be used. In a book relevant to all English speakers, but most definitely to the school-age and ESL students – the OED subconsciously outlines community and national standards for treatment of women. What we learn in school…

Further, the OED is the leader of the world in dictionaries, the number one. What they do, echoes down through their children and grandchildren (publishes of dictionaries in US English, Canadian English, Australian English, Nigerian English etc.)

Thankfully, OED are working to change that. And I, and no doubt many others, am grateful.

As the Guardian says, “Around 500 changes to example sentences have been made to date in the ongoing project, including words to do with appearance (anatomy, hip, hot, ugly), sexuality and sexual behaviour (arouse, frumpy, frigid, grope), personality traits (avaricious, brainy, high-maintenance, shopaholic, stubborn), and concepts of traditional gender roles (housework, chore, domestically, housekeeping).”

Some examples of new sample sentences:

housework: regular work done in housekeeping, especially cleaning and tidying

  • original example: she still does all the housework
  • new example: I was busy doing housework when the doorbell rang

high-maintenance: (of a person) demanding a lot of attention

  • original example: if Martin could keep a high-maintenance girl like Tania happy, he must be doing something right
  • new example: I freely admit to being high-maintenance

rabid: Having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something

  • original example: a rabid feminist
  • new example: a rabid ideologue


Well done OED – damn well done!

Now, dictionaries of the world – time to follow suit and up your anti-sexism game!


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