Random House's new dictionary eiminates sexism

June 11, 1991|By New York Times

Now appearing on bookstore shelves is a new dictionary, the Random House Webster's College Dictionary, which is, Random House contends, notable for several reasons: It has far more entries than any of its competitors (180,000) and many new words and phrases, from acquaintance rape to zouk (a #i Caribbean style of dance music).

But the most publicized features of the new dictionary are, first, its claim to have eliminated sexist language from its definitions and, second, the scrupulous attention it pays to the potential of words to give offense. Many guidelines to usage are appended to its definitions, warning when words are "offensive" or "disparaging" and sometimes offering alternatives.

The dictionary's new features are illustrated by the entry for "girl." The usage note points out that "many women today resent being called girls." It says further that the phrase "my girl," in reference to one's secretary, "has decreased but not disappeared"; it points out that the use of the term "bachelor girl" for an unmarried woman is "frequently regarded as offensive," while "working girl," meaning a woman who works, "is declining in use."

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