MORE than 30,000 people have signed a petition calling for Oxford University Press to change the ‘sexist’ definitions of the word woman in some of its dictionaries.

Launched by Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, the petition says Oxford dictionaries, based at Oxford University Press in Walton Street, contain words such as ‘mare, baggage, wench, bird, bint, biddy, and filly’ as synonyms for woman.

Oxford Mail:

Signatories are calling on OUP to ‘eliminate all phrases and definitions that discriminate against and patronise women and/or connote men’s ownership of women’, to ‘enlarge the dictionary’s entry for ‘woman’ and to include examples representative of minorities, for example, a transgender woman, a lesbian woman, etc’.

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In response, OUP’s head of lexical content strategy Katherine Connor Martin said editors are investigating whether there are senses of woman which are not currently covered but should be added in a future update.

Pointing out that the content referred to in the petition is not from the Oxford English Dictionary but from the Oxford Thesaurus of English and the Oxford Dictionary of English, which are drawn from ‘real-life’ use of language, Ms Martin said: “If there is evidence of an offensive or derogatory word or meaning being widely used in English, it will not be excluded from the dictionary solely on the grounds that it is offensive or derogatory.”

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She added: “Sensibilities regarding language are constantly changing, and our editorial team is always grateful for feedback to ensure that the status of offensive or denigrating terms is clear to our readers.”

Ms Martin said dictionary staff were taking the points raised in the petition very seriously.

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She added “As ever, our dictionaries strive to reflect, rather than dictate, language so any changes will be made on that basis.”