Dictionary.com adds new words reflecting online activism and work
Dictionary.com has announced its latest language updates as we reach the first anniversary of our communal COVID-19 lockdown. In a year marked by new modes of communication and advocacy, the updates reflect our new reality with additions such as “doomscrolling”, “Zoom” and “BIPOC” (Black Indigenous and People of Color).
The 2021 additions were announced Thursday and include 7,600 updated entries, including 450 new words and 94 new definitions for existing entries.
Dictionary.com will no longer use the term “slave” in entries for related phrases (such as Harriet Tubman, Plantation, and Underground Railroad), instead replacing the noun with the adjective “enslaved” or referring to the institution of slavery itself when possible. Along with this language shift came a greater push to understand the complex history (and repercussions) of slavery in the United States. Like New York Times Review Writer Nikole Hannah-Jones explained on NPR’s Fresh Air regarding the decision to use the term “enslaved person” and not “slave” in her writing, “It was very important…not to use language that further dehumanizes people who every system and structure was designed to dehumanize I think when we hear the word slave we think slavery is the essence of that person But if you call someone an enslaved person, then it speaks of a condition. These people were not slaves.”
The update adds the term “AAL” (African American language) and accompanying words like “finna” and “chile,” alongside phrases frequently used in the racial justice movement like “marginalized” and “disenfranchisement”. The website also added the terms “overpolicing”, “racialization” and “critical race theory”.
The term “indigenous” is now capitalized when it “refers to a people who are one of the first known inhabitants of an area, or who are their descendants”.
Dictionary.com said in a press release that the changes reflect how the words act as an “opportunity for discovery and education” and focus on themes of race, social justice, identity and culture. Specifically, the website chose to include words that “have risen to the top of the national discourse on social justice,” according to a statement from John Kelly, editor-in-chief of Dictionary.com. “Our update also reflects how our society deals with racism, including in language,” Kelly wrote. “It’s part of our ongoing efforts to make sure we represent people on Dictionary.com with dignity and humanity.
Many changes related to COVID-19 reflect the evolution of the ways we work and learn online. Phrases like ‘blended learning’ and ‘hybrid learning’ explain how schools have adapted to the age of Zoom, and terms like ‘flatten the curve’, ‘super-broadcaster’ and ‘telecommuting’ show how the pandemic has “transformed our language”, Kelly writes.
Along with “doomscrolling” and “Zoom,” internet-related terms like “deepfake” and “sponcon” (sponsored content) show the evolving nature of technology and online consumers.
Dictionary.com announced similar reflective changes in its biggest update last year, including capitalization of Black, replacement of the term “gay” and changes to mental health and addiction entries.
Dictionary.com unveils its biggest and most comprehensive update yet
With this year’s update, Dictionary.com recognizes that the events of 2020 will continue to impact how we understand the community, labor, and social justice movements.