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A Response from the Editor on 'misogyny'

Oct 18, 2012

In response to the various emails, posts, tweets, etc., from the public about the definition of the word misogyny, the editors would like to make the following comments:

  • The original meaning of misogyny has NOT been replaced with the new definition. The original sense is still in use, so needs to be recorded in the dictionary. The entry for misogyny now has two definitions.
  • If you look in a dictionary at any entry with more than one definition, you are probably looking at a word which, through use over time, has developed meanings beyond its original sense.
  • New senses of existing words do not replace the original meaning, but provide an extension of it. A branch in the sense of a tree was joined in the dictionary, over time, with a branch of a river, and a branch of science.
  • Subtle changes in the use of a word can fly under the radar for some time, often until there is some kind of discourse, public or otherwise, which brings them to the attention of the dictionary editors.
  • When it is brought to our attention, we are lucky these days to be able to draw on the immense resources of the internet such as newsfeeds, blogs, videos, etc., to research the use of the word over time, in different areas of the world, and in different kinds of texts. Of course, we can also check other dictionaries, to see if the same conclusions have been reached by our fellow lexicographers.
  • This process was followed in the case of misogyny. There is a vast amount of evidence for the sense now covered in the Macquarie’s second definition. A check of other dictionaries revealed that the ideas of prejudice and superiority (not just pure hatred) were included by several, including the current complete Oxford dictionary online which was updated in 2002 to the hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women.
  • It does not matter to the dictionary editors who said the word or about whom it was used. What matters is that we realised that there was a sense of this word that was in common use, and had been for a good number of years, and it was not covered in the dictionary.
  • Nor did the dictionary editors initiate this public discussion of the change in the meaning of the word. This all began with a journalist who observed that there had been a debate about the meaning of the word and so it was reasonable to ask the dictionary editors what they thought.
  • This entry now goes through the normal procedures of the dictionary, that is, a cycle of proofs read by a number of different people, before being released in the annual upload to the dictionary online in January.
  • It has been brought to our attention that misandry is used in a similar fashion to misogyny in texts relating to gender issues, and that misandry should have a similar second definition which covers entrenched prejudice rather than hatred. There seems, at first glance, to be evidence for this so we are looking into it. Thank you to everyone who has brought this to our attention.

See also: A Letter From the Editor on 'misogyny'

For further reading:

Macquarie, Misogyny, and Men who hate women | William Steed | Crikey

PM’s speech prompts a redefinition of misogyny | Winsome Denyer | ABC Radio 

There’s more than one way to define a catcall | The Punch

Misogyny: Does It Mean Hate or Bias? | Ben Zimmer | The Wall Street Journal 


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