Jul 27 2013

Et tu, OED?

Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that it is wrong to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. But Hannah Ridge writes that that major authority on the usage of words, the Oxford English Dictionary, has announced that is going to do just that and include same-sex marriage in future definitions. A major French dictionary is doing the same.

Following a recent vote in the English parliament to allow same-sex unions, the Oxford University Press expressed its willingness to change the definition. Said its spokeswoman, “We continually monitor the words in our dictionaries, paying particular to those words whose usage is shifting, so yes, this will happen with marriage.”

The former definition, however, will not be completely expunged. One feature of the OED is its documentation of past meanings of words, which means that the one-man-one-woman definition of marriage will continue to grace its pages. Currently the definition reads, “The condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between persons married to each other,” with a footnote stating, “The term is now sometimes used with reference to long-term relationships between partners of the same sex.” The term gay marriage has its own reference. However, as the term marriage is increasingly used to reference to all marriages, the entry will change.

Merriam-Webster has already taken tentative steps at shifting the definition.

Will we now see opponents demanding that people boycott the OED and demand that public and school libraries remove it from their shelves, because the OED is clearly part of the ‘gay agenda’? Will pastor Terry Jones of Koran burning fame also conduct dictionary burnings?


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  1. 1

    I’ve has always said this: the meaning of words is determined by how people actually use them. I don’t know how long to wait until we judge that a meaning is an actual correct use (as opposed to temporary slang), but it is clear to me that the contemporary definition of marriage does now include same sex unions.

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    The OED is going to find itself in trouble with the Family Research Council…

  3. 3


    Family Research Council … who already insists on its own definitions for “family” and “research,” and. for all I know, Council.” — pH

  4. 4

    The OED is descriptive, not prescriptive. If the term “marriage” is applied to a particular kind of relationship, the OED records the use just as it does every other, whether it be man and woman, two men, two women or the Shakespearean marriage of true minds
    There are no moral judgments involved.

  5. 5

    Oh noes, they’re redefinitioning the defining definition. *baby Jesus weeps*

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