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Reflecting how we talk about gender: a new update of Macmillan Dictionary

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

If you are interested in how language changes – and the fact that you are reading this blog suggests that you are – you will have noticed that many dictionaries are updating entries to reflect how we talk about gender in the 21st century. Macmillan Dictionary is no exception. The entry for they already covered the word’s use as a non-binary pronoun: this meaning was added last year. In the most recent update of our dictionary, published today, we have added entries for some more gender-related terms, including non-binary itself, cisgender and gender-diverse. An interesting new entry in this category is Spivak pronouns, a set of gender-neutral pronouns developed, as a Word Story at the entry informs us, by a mathematician called Michael Spivak back in the 1990s. Many of these entries have been promoted from the Open Dictionary – non-binary had been in there since 2016 – and there are several gender-neutral pronouns that we are keeping an eye on to see if they gain more widespread use. We have also added the phrase someone’s pronouns, used to refer to the pronouns and possessive determiners that someone uses about themselves and prefers others to use about them.

This update was not all about gender, though. There was the usual complement of added words, meanings and phrases, many of them promoted from our fantastic crowdsourced Open Dictionary. These range from new phrasal verbs like bake in and circle back to new meanings for ordinary verbs like blitz, enable and filter. New noun entries include burn rate, coeliac, climate science and cryosphere, as well as  deep learning and moonbow. These last two started life as BuzzWords, a monthly feature by Kerry Maxwell that is always worth keeping an eye on. Kerry’s articles have now been intergrated into Macmillan Dictionary, so you will see extracts from them and links to them at many entries.



Another important set of additions came in the form not of words, but of images and sounds. You have probably seen some of the existing images for things like animals, birds, trees and so on. This update sees a big increase in both the range and depth of certain categories of images, notably those for colours, dogs and types of pasta. For the colours, we have added slideshows of images for other meanings of colour words to the existing images for the colours themselves; so coral now has a beautiful image of corals in their natural habitat, while coffee has images for the beans, drink and cake, as well as the colour. Check out green and copper to see more of these, or just have a browse through the colour entries. We have also added images for different breeds of dog and in some cases their puppies too: check out this entry for pointer, for example, or this one for dachshund. This type of entry is where a picture really does do the job better than words can, and it’s wonderful to be able to enhance the dictionary in this way.

A similar point could be made about sounds. Macmillan Dictionary has included some sound effects since we first went online, but these have now been greatly expanded, with sound files added for musical forms such as sonata and fanfare; dances such as rumba and jig; and musical terms such as andante and vivace. These enhancements are only possible in an online dictionary, and vindicate once again Macmillan Dictionary’s decision to become fully electronic more than a decade ago. We hope you enjoy browsing these additions to the dictionary, and don’t forget to keep an eye on the website to keep up with all the changes.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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