query--dictionaries and heterosexism

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Wed Jan 31 11:47:06 UTC 2001

--On Tuesday, January 30, 2001 3:25 pm +0000 RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:

> A query from someone on another list:
> I  was  struck  by  Harvey's  statement  that  "unsurprisingly,  in no
> dictionary  that  I  have consulted does a gay example occur under the
> headwords 'boyfriend', 'girlfriend', 'lover', 'partner', etc.".
> Is that still the case?

I don't find that unsurprising at all.  Most dictionaries are not going to
bother with examples for (relatively) concrete nouns at all, and those who
do are not going to give a rainbow of examples.  (Every major dictionary
that I've seen reviewed in the popular press in the past decade has taken a
beating for being 'too PC'.)

I'm not going to look up these words in all the dictionaries I have, since
I don't expect to find examples to comment upon (and the original querier
could do this him/herself).  But I have looked in the Collins Cobuild,
which does have examples fror just about every definition.  All the
romantic/sexual examples for 'boyfriend' involve a female partner, for
'girlfriend' involve a male partner, for 'lover' involve mixed-sex couples,
and for 'partner' are gender-neutral ('Wanting other friends doesn't mean
you don't love your partner.')

Now, whether the definitions are neutral regarding the sex of the (other)
partner is another matter, and any dictionary worth its salt will reflect
this sort-of-complementary gender neutrality.  So, e.g., NODE's definition
for 'girlfriend' is 'a person's regular female companion with whom they
have a romantic or sexual relationship.'  (Way to go, NODE, using the
gender-neutral, number-neutral 3rd person!)  AHD4 does mention same-sex
couples at 'marriage' and in the Usage Note for 'domestic partner'.


M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

phone +44-(0)1273-678844
fax   +44-(0)1273-671320

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