Merriam-Webster has been accused of politicizing its dictionary after it flagged the term ‘sexual preference’ as offensive, mirroring a complaint leveled against Amy Coney Barrett during her SCOTUS confirmation hearing.
The curious edit was spotted hours after Barrett was lambasted for using the phrase “sexual preference” to refer to LGBTQ Americans’ sexual orientations as she answered questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono berated the conservative Supreme Court nominee for using the term, claiming that it was “offensive and outdated.” The senator alleged that “anti-LGBTQ activists” use the phrase to “suggest that sexual orientation is a choice,” when it is really “a key part of a person’s identity.”
Barrett responded by insisting she meant no offense to the LGBTQ community and said she apologized if her word choice caused harm.
Left-leaning social media users and pundits pounced on the verbal exchange, claiming that it was proof that Trump’s pick for the nation’s top court was unfit to serve. And now it appears that the political posturing has seeped its way into one of the world’s most prestigious English dictionaries.
Commentator Steve Krakauer revealed that the dictionary had quietly changed its entry for “sexual preference,” declaring the term “offensive.”
As recently as last month, Webster’s Dictionary included a definition of “preference” as “orientation” or “sexual preference.” TODAY they changed it and added the word “offensive.”Insane – I just checked through Wayback Machine and it’s real. (via @ThorSvensonn & @chadfelixg) pic.twitter.com/oOq1SNtCP2
— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) October 14, 2020
An archived version of the definition for “preference” from late September includes no mention of the phrase “sexual preference” being considered uncouth. The entry was updated on October 13, the same day of Barrett’s hearing.
Ironically, one of Merriam-Webster’s own definitions of “sexual orientation” describes the phrase as “a person’s sexual preference or identity as bisexual, heterosexual, or homosexual.”
Webster’s own definition of “Sexual orientation” uses the term “sexual preference.” It’s not noted as offensive in this definition. pic.twitter.com/4rHR5n5ihE
— JB (@derajdranrab) October 14, 2020
This isn’t the first time that Merriam-Webster has enlisted its dictionary in America’s culture wars. In June, the publisher vowed to redefine “racism” to reflect systemic oppression, and also promised to “revise the entries of other words that are related to racism or have racial connotations.” The move was criticized as political pandering to the Black Lives Matter movement, which alleges that the United States suffers from systemic racism.