Tuesday Was a Big Day for a 'Common Word'

'Woman' made headlines
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 13, 2022 4:23 PM CST
Updated Dec 14, 2022 10:10 AM CST
Cambridge Dictionary Adds New Definition for 'Woman'
A generic dictionary's definition.   (Getty Images / Devonyu)
UPDATE Dec 14, 2022 10:10 AM CST

Tuesday was a big day for the word "woman." In addition to a slew of headlines about a recent change the Cambridge Dictionary made to the word, another dictionary appointed it the word of 2022. Dictionary.com announced that "woman" was its word of the year, noting that searches for the word "spiked significantly multiple times in relation to separate high-profile events." In a press release, Dictionary.com notes the biggest surge—a 1,400% increase in searches, which it describes as "a massive leap for such a common word"—came in March, when Sen. Marsha Blackburn asked Ketanji Brown Jackson at her SCOTUS confirmation hearing if she could define the word woman. (Here's how Jackson answered.)

Dec 13, 2022 4:23 PM CST

The Telegraph just spotted a change made by the Cambridge Dictionary in October, and what had been a fairly quiet and unnoticed move is now drawing headlines. On Tuesday the paper reported the dictionary had expanded its definition of "woman" by adding a supplementary definition. Its entry now also defines a woman as "an adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth." The two use cases it gives read: "She was the first trans woman elected to a national office" and "Mary is a woman who was assigned male at birth." The definition for man was similarly updated.

The Telegraph reports Cambridge is not the first dictionary to make such an amendment: Merriam-Webster previously added a supplementary definition for "female" as "having a gender identity that is the opposite of male." (That change led to death threats.) The Washington Post has a statement on the Oct. 27 edit from a rep from Cambridge University Press and Assessment. It reads in part, "Our dictionaries are written for learners of English and are designed to help users understand English as it is currently used. [Our editors] carefully studied usage patterns of the word woman and concluded that this definition is one that learners of English should be aware of." (Oxford University Press changed its definition in 2020 after accusations it was sexist.)

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