A piece in yesterday’s Telegraph (digital edition only £39.00 p.a.):
Oxford University Press has been criticised for including the terms as synonyms for ‘woman’
Derogatory terms for women, such as “bint” and “bitch”, will remain in the Oxford Dictionary of English because to remove them would amount to censorship, the publisher has said.
Oxford University Press [OUP] was criticised for including the terms as synonyms for “woman”, and last year updated the dictionary to signify that the words were considered offensive or dated.
However, it has defended their continued inclusion. Speaking at an event to mark International Women’s Day, Katherine Martin, head of product for Oxford Languages, part of OUP, said: “‘Bitch’ is quite a common word in English. Part of what we do as lexicographers is to show the full range of meanings that it has.
“To not show any aspect of a word’s use would be akin to censorship. Lexicographers want to make facts available to the public, and the more synonyms and information [a word] has, the better.”
Eleanor Maier, OUP’s executive editor, said context was all-important. “As dictionary makers, we have a responsibility to accurately describe how language is used and that means we should include sexist and racist terms.
“But it’s really important for us to contextualise them. So if a term is derogatory or highly offensive, we should say it.”
Challenged on whether including the terms was “promoting” sexism, Maier replied: “I don’t think we are doing that, because we’re describing how language works. If people think we are, that’s a wider conversation about how language is used in the wild, or what dictionaries are for.
“Language can be sexist, people can be sexist, and as a descriptive dictionary we’re describing that usage. It doesn’t mean we approve of that usage… but we have a duty as scholars to record it.”
The event was a panel discussion entitled ‘Bitch’, ‘bint’ and ‘maid’: exploring sexist language in the dictionary.
Dr Sarah Ogilvie, senior research fellow in the faculty of linguistics, philology and phonetics at the University of Oxford, said that there is far more pejorative language describing women than men.
She said: “You never hear men referred to as certain adjectives like ‘ditzy’, ‘feisty’, ‘bossy’, ‘nagging’ or ‘shril’. There is definitely a gender bias to certain words and a good lexicographer is obliged to convey that meaning.
“There are over 3,000 pejorative words for ‘woman’.”
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