Words mean a lot of things, especially when slang is factored in, and the purpose of a dictionary is to define them—but should insulting definitions be included in their examples? The fifteen-year-old daughter of a lesbian couple in Sudbury, Massachusetts, doesn’t think so.
Becca Gorman was working on a project about gay rights for school when she happened to look up “gay” in the Apple dictionary:
Gay |gÄ| adjective (gayer, gayest)
1 (of a person, esp. a man) homosexual: that friend of yours, is he gay?
• relating to or used by homosexuals: feminist, black, and gay perspectives.
2 lighthearted and carefree: Nan had a gay disposition and a very pretty face.
• brightly colored; showy; brilliant: a gay profusion of purple and pink sweet peas.
3 informaI foolish; stupid: making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule.
“At first, I was kind of in disbelief,” she told “MetroWest Daily News.” She said that other dictionaries note it has a derogatory use, but the ones she consulted don’t define it or provide an example.
She didn’t elaborate on which dictionaries she checked; a quick search revealed that while Dictionary.com Unabridged, based on Random House’s dictionary, included the definition, “Slang: Often Disparaging and Offensive. awkward, stupid, or bad; lame: This game is really gay.” In contrast, Merriam-Webster online made no mention of a derogatory use.
Apple has historically been LGBT-friendly; in 2008, they publically denounced California’s Proposition 8 and donated $100,000 to the “No on 8″ campaign. Its CEO, Tim Cook, was named the most powerful gay man in the world in 2011, although he has never actually disclosed his orientation.
Therefore, Gorman decided to contact Apple to request they change the entry: “I assume that you are a pro-gay company, and would never intend for any one of your products to be as offensive as this definition was,” she wrote. “Even with your addition of the word ‘informal,’ this definition normalizes the terrible derogatory twist that many people put on the word ‘gay.’”
Much to the household’s surprise, only an hour after she sent the email, an Apple representative called and asked to speak to the teenager. Gorman reported that “They told me it’s so hard to track the dictionaries they’re getting sources from, and that they were also shocked themselves.”
She was told Apple planned to “look into” the issue, and since this morning, the offending definition can no longer be found on Apple’s built in computer dictionary.
The definitions of words listed in the dictionary change over time for a multitude of reasons, including shifting social views; in August, Gay Star News reported that same-sex couples are now included in the definition of “marriage” in the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary; a spokesperson for Oxford University Press confirmed that the change will also be found in the print edition.