A piece in today’s Sunday Telegraph. Removing words from dictionaries – an inevitable reminder of Nineteen Eighty-Four:
They say terms such as “puttana” (whore) and “cagna” (bitch) should be dropped as they reinforce misogynist stereotypes
Campaigners have urged one of Italy’s leading dictionaries to scrap dozens of pegorative synonyms for women, including several words for sex workers.
More than 100-high profile academics, writers and politicians have written an open letter accusing the Treccani online dictionary of sexism, saying that the synonyms it lists under “man” are broadly positive.
They argue that terms with negative connotations such as “puttana” (whore) and “cagna” (bitch) should be dropped as they “are not only offensive but … reinforce negative and misogynist stereotypes that objectify women and present them as inferior beings”.
The signatories to the letter added: “This is dangerous as language shapes reality and influences the way women are perceived and treated.”
The letter, published in the daily newspaper La Repubblica ahead of International Women’s Day, comes after a similar campaign forced the Oxford English dictionary to alter its definition last year.
In November, the Oxford University Press updated the definition of ‘woman’ in its dictionaries after a similar petition signed by tens of thousands of people led to a review.
The renowned English language dictionary was criticised for listing terms such as “bitch”, “bird” and “bint” as having a similar meaning to “woman”.
Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, the equality activist who launched both campaigns, said Treccani’s definition was even more offensive, as it included 30 different terms to describe a sex worker.
“These words are simply not synonyms of the word ‘woman’. They can be the offensive synonyms of the word ‘sex worker’, but not of ‘woman’,” she said.
Ms Giovanardi, an Italian national who lives in Britain, added: “It’s really a struggle to find anything positive in that definition, it’s very outdated.”
Among the synonyms listed under the definition of man were “uomo d’affari” (businessman) “uomo di cuore” (man of heart) and “uomo d’ingegno” (man of genius), she said.
Ms Giovanardi said she hoped the letter, whose signatories include Laura Boldrini, the former speaker of Italy’s chamber of deputies, and novelist Michela Murgia, would prompt a public debate on sexism, which she described as “an everyday issue” in Italy.
But Treccani’s Italian language vocabulary director, Valeria Della Valle, said that it was the role of dictionaries to include words which some may find offensive.
“It is not by invoking a bonfire … to burn the words that offend us that we will be able to defend our image and role (as women),” Della Valle wrote in her response to the open letter.
She said dictionaries had to include even the “most detestable and outdated expressions” while at the same time labelling them as prejudicial or stemming from old and no longer acceptable views.
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