This week, Oxford University Press (OUP) drew criticism from feminists after ‘responding flippantly’ to an accusation of sexism. Michael Oman-Reagan – an academic who made the initial complaint – took issue with the Oxford English Dictionary’s choice of example for usage of the word ‘rabid’ – ‘rabid feminist’. He also complained about some other ‘sexist’ examples. The OUP’s initial response (a sarky tweet) was well received, but, after some Twitter feminists piled in, it issued an apology and promised to review its examples.
What remarkable times we live in when a small minority can influence how the English language is presented in the dictionary. Using the example ‘rabid feminist’ is perfectly acceptable. How ironic that Twitter feminists sought to challenge it by behaving in such a rabid way.
It may be tempting to write this off as just another Twitterstorm, but there is a sinister, censorious undertone here. Not only did a small group of people feel it was their place to cherry-pick things they didn’t like from the dictionary and demand they be changed, but, worse still, they were pandered to. Cowardly institutions like the OUP are not the kind of custodians the English language needs.
The dictionary exists to define words, not push so-called progressive narratives. The fact that feminists see the offending examples as personal attacks on women betrays how mired in a false sense of victimhood they are. Let’s be clear, the phrase ‘rabid feminist’ isn’t an attack on all womankind. Feminism is not a gender – it’s an ideology. To give an ideology gendered status is to attempt to place it above critique.
To borrow the OED’s current slogan: language matters. This is exactly why all attempts to sterilise and neuter it must be firmly resisted.