Critics Attack Dictionary’s Revised Gender Definitions


Merriam-Webster is catching flak for its updated gender definitions some claim are part of a massive, though ridiculous, conspiracy.

The dictionary Merriam-Webster actually updated its gender definitions for male and female in 2020. But someone recently brought it up again on social media. So, of course, there are people acting like there’s something new to be outraged about that just happened.

Conservative-leaning website The Daily Signal describes the change as the dictionary “adding woke gender ideology” into its pages. One Twitter user, who I won’t mention by name, claims the move is “literally erasing women from existence.”

So what’s so revolutionary? Well, if you missed this when it actually happened two years ago, the primary definition for female, according to Merriam-Webster’s website, remains as follows:

Of, relating to, or being the sex that typically has the capacity to bear young or produce eggs;

But there’s a second definition that is raising (again) eyebrows:

having a gender identity that is the opposite of male;

The definition of male, incidentally, received a similar treatment.

That whole “gender identity” thing is setting off the same people who were triggered in 2020. It’s also setting off a new round of triggered people who happened to miss the change when it happened.

Gender identity can be a major trigger.

There are two primary reason people choose to be so up-in-arms over this. The first, of course, is that they have major issues with the notion of gender identity. I understand that. The majority of people just so happen to identify with the gender into which they were born. So they’re unable — and sometimes unwilling to try — to imagine how someone else’s feelings might differ.

We were all born into a certain gender, though some disagree with that characterization.

Some believe they were “assigned” a gender at birth. The “assignment” merely is a doctor stating what is apparent when observing the newborn’s sex characteristics. It’s made with a quick look at the plumbing. That’s the way gender has always been determined at birth. That so-called “assignment” is merely a statement of fact.

But here’s where people get very uncomfortable, mostly because it’s a new understanding. The fact of their sex characteristics doesn’t always match up with how they identify with that gender. Someone who is born a male may identify as female. Or vice versa. Or somewhere in between.

The fact that some of us don’t understand doesn’t mean there aren’t those who genuinely experience one of those identities.

The fact that some of us may not want to think about it doesn’t gender issues — or conversations about them — will simply disappear.

‘If it’s in the dictionary…’

People are choosing to lash out at the dictionary (for at least the second time around) for another reason. People think that the dictionary somehow makes things more valid than it actually does.

We see this all the time when we have grammar discussions. People insist words like irregardless are perfectly acceptable words.

“It’s in the dictionary,” they argue, “so it must be ok.”

But a dictionary doesn’t make those decisions. When you look up a word like irregardless, you’ll find a notation like “non-standard,” which is a sign it is not a valid word. But dictionaries include those “non-words” for an important reason: to make people understand what someone meant to say. Dictionaries define how people use words. They don’t make laws about how everyone will always use words going forward. They merely explain how the words are already being used.

Dictionaries, then, always are late to the party. Someone has to use a word with a certain meaning and enough people have to follow before that word (and that meaning) make it to the dictionary.

The revised gender definitions, then, reflect the new way some are now using those gender terms.

Not everyone who refers to male or female refers to a single, narrow definition. That’s not new. It’s just new to the dictionary because the dictionary is finally catching up with that particular type of definition.

There’s no dark conspiracy here.

The delivery room staffers who list that little F are M on the birth certificate aren’t part of some dark conspiracy. You can’t ask a newborn what gender they believe themselves to be. Even if a newborn could speak, it wouldn’t have enough self-understanding to make such a decision seconds after being delivered.

A dictionary’s updated gender definitions don’t pave the way for a “new understanding” of what male and female mean. That new understanding — which some mockingly call “woke” — is already there. The dictionary is just playing catch-up.

Erasing women from existence? Please. Assertions as ridiculous as that don’t even deserve an answer.

I’ll admit I don’t understand certain aspects of gender identity. I can understand being born male and identifying as male. That’s where I am. I can imagine being born into one gender but feeling you were trapped in the wrong gender’s body. I’m certain that I don’t fully grasp what that feels like because I have no direct frame of reference. But I can imagine some aspect of it. I can’t imagine — I can’t really understand — what it means to be born into one gender, but to identify as neither or as both at the same time. My brain is pretty good at processing the either-or, the “A” or “B”. The somewhere in between or “none of the above” options don’t compute for me.

But I return to this, friends: the fact that I don’t fully grasp those ideas doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It doesn’t mean there aren’t people who are exactly in those spaces. I don’t have to understand it to acknowledge that it’s real.

Those people, like the rest of us, are merely trying to live their lives like the rest of us. They want to find happiness. They want to belong.

Getting this fired up over a dictionary definition, in case you haven’t figured this out, doesn’t provide those things.

We can all do better, folks.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.


  • “the fact that I don’t fully grasp those ideas doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” But even if you could grasp such ideas, that doesn’t mean that they do exist either. I can imagine a toroidal planet, but that doesn’t mean such a thing exists. I can imagine the pantheon of Greek gods, but that doesn’t mean they exist either. Being able to understand a concept does not automatically give it basis in reality. A person may claim they are a rabbit or a pink unicorn, but if the physical evidence does not agree, are we to take their word over the physical evidence? Does a person’s self-identification trump the perceptions of others? Might I be Libyan one day and Chinese the next, regardless of evidence to the contrary?

    • I think Patrick’s point is that he doesn’t need to fully understand what people are going though in order to respect what they are saying as their truth. “the fact that I don’t fully grasp those ideas doesn’t mean they don’t exist” can’t be applied to everything but in the context he is using that statement I understand that he means “just because I never had issues with my gender identity does not mean others have never experienced that.” Taking statements out of context and using it like that doesn’t really create a strong argument.

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