“One is a woman, so that’s encouraging too”. The representation of social gender in “powered by Oxford” online lexicography


Since any language cannot but mirror its speech community’s ideology, lexicographers cannot but record how that ideology is reflected in language usage (Iamartino 2020, pp. 37-38). Particularly relevant in this sense are all those entries which belong to sensitive issues in a given society: political and social ideas, religion, ethnicity, sex, and gender (Iamartino 2020, p. 36). As regards the latter, as Pinnavaia remarks (2014, p. 219), while male gender does not seem to be an issue, female gender does. Indeed, since the beginnings of dictionary-making in early modern Europe and until quite recently, dictionaries have always been full of entries, words, definitions, examples, and comments that display the contemporary patronising and often derogatory attitude of the cultural and social male elite towards women (Iamartino 2010, p. 95). In this light, this paper investigates the representation of “social gender” (Hellinger, Bußmann 2001a, p. 11) in the definitions and usage examples of a group of occupational terms in the Oxford Dictionary of English, whose free online version is hosted on the “powered by Oxford” dictionary portal Lexico.com and licensed for use to technology giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft (Ferrett, Dollinger 2020). The rationale behind the present study lies in two recent online controversies which, blaming Oxford University Press for linguistic sexism, eventually prompted the publisher to revise thousands of entries (Flood 2016, 2020; Giovanardi 2019a; Oman-Reagan 2016; Saner 2019). Accordingly, this research aims to promote a debate about the current relationship between Internet lexicography, gender, and society, while highlighting the role online platforms may play in potential ‘wars on words’ as a new form of dictionary criticism.


DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v44p275

Keywords: gender; sexism; occupational terms; online lexicography; dictionary criticism.


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