From 'Black' to 'bisexual,' Dictionary.com is revamping its language on race and LGBTQ identity

Erin Donnelly
Dictionary.com's new updates include terms related to race, the LGBTQ community and more. (Photo: Getty Creative stock photo)
Dictionary.com's new updates include terms related to race, the LGBTQ community and more. (Photo: Getty Creative stock photo)

Word to the wise: Dictionary.com is expanding its vocabulary with more than 15,000 revisions and 650 new entries running the gamut from cultural talking points like emotional labor and MeToo to slang terms such as amirite and GOAT [Greatest Of All Time].

The online dictionary’s latest new words addition includes significant, and inclusive, updates to language relating to race and ethnicity — with Black, as it relates to a person, now capitalized and listed as a separate entry for the first time — as well as LGBTQ identity and mental health issues such as suicide and addiction.

“The work of a dictionary is more than just adding new words,” Dictionary.com senior editor John Kelly says in a statement. “It’s an ongoing effort to ensure that how we define words reflects changes in language —and life. Among our many new entries are thousands of deeper, dictionary-wide revisions that touch us on our most personal levels: how we talk about ourselves and our identities, from race to sexual orientation to mental health. Our revisions are putting people, in all their rich humanity, first, and we’re extremely proud of that.”

In addition to capitalizing Black, the site now includes Afro-Latina, Afro-Latino, Afro-Latinx, brownface, Filipina, Filipinx, Pinay, Pinoy and Pinxy as new entries.

The new words addition also includes updates to make LGBTQ language more humane and less clinical. Instances of the word homosexual have been changed to gay, with a note that the former term is “often disparaging and offensive” in its use; homosexuality has been updated to gay sexual orientation. Pride has been capitalized where relevant, while terms like ace, asexual, deadname, gender-inclusive, they, them, their, theirs, themself and trans+ have received new or revised definitions. And words ending in -sexual (such as bisexual and pansexual) have had their definitions updated from “romantically or sexually attracted to” to “romantically, emotionally or sexually attracted to.”

According to a press release from the site, “broadening these definitions better reflects the complexity and richness of the experiences of these identities and helps eliminate heterosexual bias as the unmarked, default experience.”

Mental health is also treated more sensitively, particularly with a view to removing implications of shame or judgment around matters like suicide and addiction. “Commit suicide” has been replaced by “die by suicide” and “end one’s life,” while the entries for addict, user, alcohol use disorder, dipsomaniac and lush were revised; for instance, the latter notes that, as a noun, it’s a “disparaging and offensive” term.

New entries for assistance animal, comfort animal, companion animal, emotional support animal, service animal and therapy animal help distinguish the unique roles these animals serve. And in light of growing concern about a climate crisis, environmentally-minded entries including ecoanxiety, critically endangered, extinct in the wild, cap and trade, emissions trading, conservation dependent and conservation status now appear.

As ever, society, social media and pop culture, from the high-brow to the low-brow, have informed the expanded vocabulary. Along with MeToo and gender reveal, newly added words include whitesplain (“to comment on the minority experience or explain racism to a person of color in a condescending or blaming way”; dead white male (“one of a group of white male writers, scientists or other historical figures whose works have traditionally dominated the field or been a disproportionate part of the school curriculum in the West)”; and emotional labor (“the sum of small acts performed by one person to make other people’s lives more pleasant and to protect them from negativity, including hiding the effort required to do).”

On a more lighthearted note, plenty of slang terms have been elevated to the Dictionary.com ranks. DGAF, amirite, janky and swole may not land you a triple-word score on Scrabble, but their definitions can now be referenced online. Go forth, bewildered parents.

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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