OPINION | The issue with dictionaries’ definition of the word gay

12th November 2013 0 By Daniel Browne

There is one thing that really annoys me. It doesn’t quite turn me into an aggressive homosexual but it doesn’t half infuriate me. The offending thing is when the word gay is used as a synonym for stupid, lame, rubbish or sh**, basically.

It was with great disappointment that I came across an update on this fine magazine’s Facebook page that exposed the dictionary listing of the word gay on Apple’s computer operating systems. It lists the word gay as being “foolish” and “stupid”. I will, of course, state that it has the usual definitions of gay listed, but this is a worrying development, particularly at a time when the word is used negatively so casually amongst young people (and some older ones too).

As you’ll pick up in some of my previous writings for THEGAYUK, I run an LGBTQ youth support charity and work hard to educate young people on the use of the word gay. I’ve spoken to many youth groups, parents, and professionals about the way in which gay is flung around as an insult or put down, and spent much time educating people on how to use the word appropriately or challenge its negative use. I feel that the way gay is listed in Apple’s dictionary goes some way to undo or undermine those efforts.

Apple is not the only offender, though; the Oxford Dictionary, although putting the words “often offensive” in front, also list the word gay as meaning “foolish” or “stupid”. In general, I am not easily offended but I find the dictionary listing unacceptable. Perhaps it is true that dictionaries should list the way in which words are used rather the way they should be, but I am still uncomfortable with this definition. I have actually referred young people to the dictionary to look up what gay actually means. Now it’s defined as meaning “foolish” or “stupid” I will no longer be able to do that.

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In Apple’s defence, I am aware that their dictionary entries come from several different sources and that it must be difficult to keep tabs on every entry. Apple is also known for being LGBT friendly so they can perhaps be let off for this oversight. I have confidence in Apple removing that particular definition or at least making an alteration now that they have been made aware of it. However, as for the Oxford Dictionary, I am a bit more disappointed. In my view gay does not equate to being foolish or stupid. It refers to sexuality or being light hearted and care free. Despite mentioning that the negative use is often offensive, it doesn’t make it an acceptable definition. To use the word in the way that these dictionaries define it, they are being pretty gay themselves.


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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.