Relations Reporting on marriage, family, and sexuality

Don’t trust this dictionary

Family | Merriam-Webster and other reference books embrace transgender ideology
by Mary Jackson
Posted 9/18/20, 03:41 pm

Roxanne Trujillo began teaching children the English language in 1973, more than two decades before Merriam-Webster offered its first online dictionary. She is admittedly “old school” and still prefers students define words from the oldest hard copy dictionary they can find. Now, more than ever, Trujillo has “serious concerns” about students casually looking up definitions for words online.

This month, Merriam-Webster, which describes itself as “America’s leading and most-trusted provider of language information,” updated its definitions for the words “male” and “female” to include people of the opposite sex who identify as transgender. Notably, its official definitions for the words use the qualifier “typically” before the biological descriptions of each sex, so someone described as female “typically has the capacity to bear young or produce eggs”—but not always.

Gender politics and the LGBT ideology have steadily altered the way society perceives words and their meanings. Trujillo noted the word “gay” in her 1963 edition of the American College Dictionary meant “happy” and “carefree,” with no reference to homosexuality.

In July, Merriam-Webster changed its dictionary definition of “transgender woman” to “a woman who was identified as a male at birth” and a “transgender man” as “a man who was identified as a female at birth.” The publisher also declared “they” its word of the year for 2019. The word was picked on the basis of a 313 percent increase in searches on its website. Interest might have stemmed from the dictionary’s expansion of the definition in September 2019 to include four subsenses, one of which reads “in reference to an individual person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” The dictionary defines “gender identity” as “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female.”

In its “biggest update ever,”, which draws much of its content from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, announced it will replace references to homosexuality with the word “gay.” The website said it wanted to characterize same-sex relationships as “a normal way of being” instead of a pathology or mental illness.

“The effect is to deprive people of the ability to think properly by gutting words of their real meanings and replacing them with false, politicized alternatives,” said Simon Calvert of the British Christian Institute. He said Christians must speak up for truth as defined in Scripture and link arms with others who acknowledge self-evident truths such as what it means to be male and female: “These are words with real meanings which must be protected from powerful and dangerous ideologues.”

Feminist activists have also spoken out against efforts to erase biological womanhood. “Everyone knows what women are and that we aren’t defined by a state of mind that a man can have,” Natasha Chart of the Women’s Liberation Front told Breitbart News. “I don’t have a ‘gender identity.’ I bore a child by means of my female body, not a state of mind, and it disrespects every mother and child to suggest otherwise.”

Trujillo said words and their meanings hold power to influence society. A culture that forgets the truths of Scripture—that God made man and women distinctly, in his image—only produces “mayhem and confusion,” she said. “I have always taken the responsibility seriously to raise a standard for children.”

Youth just saying no to e-cigarettes

Vaping among U.S. teenagers, especially middle schoolers, dropped sharply this year, according to a federal report.

Last year, 28 percent of high school and 11 percent of middle school students said they had recently used electronic cigarettes or other vaping products. This year, the number plummeted to fewer than 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle schoolers, according a national survey the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Sept. 9.

Vaping-related illnesses and deaths, along with higher age limits and flavor bans, may have contributed to the decline. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration banned flavors from small vaping devices such as Juul and others popular with minors. The policy does not prohibit disposable e-cigarettes from containing the sweet, candy-like flavors.

“As long as any flavored e-cigarettes are left on the market, kids will get their hands on them and we will not solve this crisis,” said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. —M.J.

Expanding roster of wedding officiants

The Pennsylvania legislature is considering a bill that would permit civilians to perform marriages as many couples consider less traditional ceremonies during the coronavirus pandemic.

An ordained minister, judge, or mayor may marry a couple in Pennsylvania, but the bill, approved by the state Senate Judiciary Committee, would grant the privilege to a citizen who has taken 120 hours of education on planning and conducting civil ceremonies.

The Rev. Dai Morgan, executive director of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, told the Patriot News while he does not oppose the bill, it indicates a societal shift away from religious institutions: “We are quickly becoming a culture that’s forgotten what the faith community is about.” —M.J.

Separation anxiety

Children whose parents divorce grow up to have lower levels of oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” than those whose parents never divorced, according to a new study from Baylor University. This could cause them to have trouble forming attachments later in life.

The brain secretes oxytocin during bonding experiences such as sexual activity, breastfeeding, delivering a baby, and even hugging. Research shows the hormone affects social behavior and emotional bonds early in life and is linked to parenting, attachment, and anxiety.

The study, published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, uncovered a biological link between divorce and long-term adult outcomes. “Most research has focused on short-term effects, like academic performance, or long-term outcomes like the impact on relationships,” said lead author Maria Boccia, a professor of child and family studies at Baylor. “This is the first step towards understanding what mechanisms might be involved.” —M.J.

Downgrading rape consequences

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a controversial law on Sept. 11 giving judges discretion over whether to add some people convicted of statutory rape to the sex offender registry.

Opponents argue the new law will leave children unprotected and allow judges to make unwarranted exceptions for sex acts between adults and minors. Republican state Sen. Brian Jones told KUSI-TV in San Diego the state’s laws regarding statutory rape are “broken,” and the only recourse is to put an initiative on the ballot: “The legislators will not do it, so it’s up to the people of California to make it happen.” —M.J.

Mary Jackson

Mary is a book reviewer and reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Greenville University graduate who previously worked for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Mary resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay area. Follow her on Twitter @mbjackson77.

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    Posted: Fri, 09/18/2020 04:21 pm

    Over the years, I've often noticed the meanings of words change in print dictionaries, and recently even more often and more dramatically in online dictionaries.  Webster's online dictionary is not unique.  It seems that the dictionary publishers want to reflect our sad culture instead of the true, historic meanings of words.  If you want to do what you can to preserve our language in some small way, find an older dictionary in a used book shop and buy it!

  • Nat Manzanita
    Posted: Fri, 09/18/2020 04:41 pm

    The meanings of words in human language change with people's use of them, which means that every single one of us has a tiny but real effect on our language every time we write or speak. We have the opportunity to push the language in the direction of clarity, beauty, and power that serves poets, storytellers, and honest people -- or the direction of a muddled, ugly confusion most useful to those who want to deceive and manipulate.

    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 07:35 am

    Excellent comment, Nat.  Thank you.  " Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." - Phil 4:8

  •  burningheart's picture
    Posted: Fri, 09/18/2020 05:34 pm

    As for the use of "they" we now have "he is"; "she is"; "it is"; and "they is" and "they are".

    Consider this.  We humans are spiritual beings living in a physical body with flesh, bone, and blood and a physical gender identity.  If a human being receives a different gender identity other than the obvious physical gender identity that person may actuall be a "they".  Many cultures consider such people as "two spirited" so the use of "they" might refer to a "two-spirited being".  This could be an instance of demonization where "they" refers to the person born as a physical male or female being who now has received an added spirit and there actually may be two spiritual beings present in the same body. 

  • WH
    Posted: Fri, 09/18/2020 11:39 pm

    Who do people "receive" their gender from? How many non-binary gendered people speak of having two spirits within them, vs. feeling male or female therefore identifying with that gender? No, this is a situation where American society is doing that which "is right in their own eyes," which runs contrary to what God says, that we were born as either male or female and He doesn't make mistakes, nor did He give us that as an option.

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 09:13 am

    How we use words does, I think, matter. If someone refers to themselves as "they" and "they" retains its plural meaning, it would seem that a novel use of the term is being introduced. Often the etymological meaning of words is lost over time. It does seem that this novel use of the word "they" is different from a "new" word "glasses," which refers to the material from which the glasses are constructed. One might think that people referring to themselves as "they" are doing so because of a deficiency in the English language. There simply is no easy reference to someone who regards themselves as having neither gender. Given the binary nature of our language with regard to sex, they have already defined themselves relative to this binary understanding. 

    The LA times guidelines say, "The updated guidelines permit use of “they” and “their” as singular pronouns for individuals who do not identify as male or female, or for when gender is unknown." However, this seems to me to a poor choice of words. As you indicate, "they" is understood as plural. As such, "they" would better refer to those who consider themselves "bi-sexual," a notion which already contains the notion of plurality. OTOH, someone who regards themselves as "neither sex" might better be regarded as asexual or agender. A "bi-sexual" appears to be adopting the notion of a plurality, the asexual person does not.

  • Mamma Peach
    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 12:40 pm

    Personally I refuse to use a plural pronoun for a singular subject. I would rather use no pronoun at all. If Frank Baum could write a whole book without using a pronoun for a character whose gender was supposed to be a mystery, I could too (and have on occasion in inflammatory circumstances).

  • RR
    Posted: Fri, 09/18/2020 05:35 pm

    Where I live, in Monterey County, California, there is no law that says "civilians" can perform marriages.  On the other hand, there is no mechanism for checking to see whether officiants are ordained ministers, etc.  When I tried to have my ordination certificate filed at the county clerk's office I was told that they don't do that.  When I got insistent, they got angry.  Anyone can claim any title in our county on a marriage certificate, not by law but by indifference.

    Voter registration is simiilar here.  It is not necessary to show proof of citizenship.  You just sign a small card saying that you affirm that you are indeed a U.S. citizen.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 09/21/2020 08:29 am

    Word definitions are not static. This is true of all languages and all times. Definitions of words change over time. Dictionaries must and do reflect actual usage as well as cultural and societal influences on words. Sadly, teachers such as Roxanne Trujillo are not adequately or accurately  teaching if they use the oldest print dictionary available. That is plain silly and reflects ignorance of language.  

    Merriam Webster for "they" includes the nonbinary sexual definition as definition "d". So it is included but not the primary one. I find this concept of nonbinary sexes repulsive but like it or not this is where language is going. MW and other dictionaries would be remiss in not reflecting actual usage in their definitions. If someone heard the word used this way and wondered what it meant how would they find out? MW is NOT replacing traditional and more common usage. Overtime if a particular usage becomes most common in the English speaking world then a "d" will move up the ladder possibly even to an "a". Haven't we noticed the tern "Archaic" in dictionaries? In other words a definition of a word that at one time was primary no longer reflects actual usage. I guess we can become archaic if we choose. And the world will have one more reason to laugh at us and our faith.

    Curiously neither being a conservative, nor a Christian, nor an Evangelical Cristian are monolithic entities nor systems. This can be seen here as we wrestle with whether or not dictionaries reflect actual usage of words. Or if they should only use definitions that reflect our personal belief system.

    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 07:30 am

    My head is spinning at the number of defenses in this thread (in a Christian news and commentary publication) of Merriam-Webster's actions.  These words do not reflect common usage.  Is it possible that Merriam-Webster is not trying to reflect our usage and culture, but is trying to lead usage and culture?  There is no doubt in my mind that that is the case.  How many arguments are won by pointing at a dictionary as an authoritative source of definition?  Do you think that the liberal/progressive academics and publishers involved in that the update might have a stake in these changes? 

    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 03:53 pm

    Thank you, Nat. Secure in Him, my head also is spinning. Mamma Peach, thank you for the example of Frank Baum.

    “… trying to lead usage and culture?” Oh, yes. A few years ago, I served with Minnesota Reading Corps and Minnesota Math Corps (state volunteer programs under the federal AmeriCorps program). For Reading Corps and my first year of Math Corps, I attended pre-service training in the Twin Cities while staying in a double-occupancy hotel room. Another woman whom I did not know was my assigned roommate. Fine.

    For the second and third years of Math Corps pre-service training, I had to choose a roommate gender from a variety of designations. Distasteful as such a choice was, at least I could be somewhat assured that my roommate also was a woman who identified as a woman (and hopefully not a lesbian). That worked out.

    However, at the end of the school year for those last two years of service, I received offensive certificates of service. In today’s culture, educators lose their jobs over not using the correct pronoun. I wasn’t even asked. Though “Hannah” is a pseudonym (it’s a long story), I have a clearly female first name. “Hannah” received a “certificate for their service.” I wasn’t sure what to say, if anything – and still wonder if I should have made a stink about it.

    When invited to a final ceremony to honor certain volunteers (including me), I asked whether the award would refer to me as “she/her.” If not, I did not want to be recognized.  I attended the ceremony and congratulated others who received the state or national awards (with the “they” designation). My regional manager told me apologetically that she had no control over the printing of those awards. However, she diplomatically and graciously provided a local award thanking me by name – “for your service.”

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 08:55 am

    I think we need to bear in mind that the definition of a word is determined by usage. It would be silly to define the word "gay" today without reference to homosexuality. The word is used daily by people of all walks of life to refer to homosexuality. This is so common that the defintion of "gay" as "happy" or "carefree" could sensibly be listed as archaic today. If someone was reading or listening to someone using the word "gay" today and they consulted the dictionary as to what they were referring to and it listed the word as meaning "happy," they would not be able to make sense of what that person was saying. As such, the dictionary would not be serving its intended purpose. OTOH, if someone were reading a document dating from before the 1960s and the word "gay" is used, the dictionary, if it is to be exhaustive, would have to also include that the notion of "happy." Frederich Nietzsche's book titled Die Fröhliche Wissenshaft has in the past been translated as The Gay Science. However, more recent translations are now referring to it as the Joyful Wisdom and The Joyous Science. Today, it is simply misleading to translate Fröhliche as gay, and no modern dictionary would do so. 

    We may be unhappy that such words are being used in ways that we disapprove of, but the stated purpose of a dictionary is to aid users in understanding how words are being used. With this in mind word definitions are necessarily linked to the time period in which a document is written. In consulting the defintion of a Greek word used in the New Testament, one ought not consult a modern Greek dictionary, or even one written a hundred years ago. One needs to consult a source like Kittel, wherein we will find that the defintion and usage of that word varies not only according to time period, but even according to geographical location. A good dictionary needs to be able to take into account all and perhaps more of these variations in meaning. 

    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 03:18 pm

    Years ago my poor late mother lost her middle name (Gay) to what was then (in 1928, and still is) a small portion of the population who co-opted it for their own perverse purposes. The name was given to her in honor of her grandmother, whose bore it as a first name.

  • SB
    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 03:19 pm

    I read Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper this year which helped me understand words in dictionaries are defined based on how the word is being used in culture and lexicographers update it accordingly when they review that word for a new edition of print or web dictionary.  Although I am a conservative Christian who is saddened by this progressive definition of words, it think it does reflect more on our culture's use of the word(s) than Merriam Webster itself (cannot speak for 

  • SamIamHis
    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 06:09 pm

    Regarding dictionaries, I use the New World Dictionary of American English, Third College Edition from 1986.  It serves me well for nearly all uses I encounter.  If the circumstance arises where a new meaning is being applied to a common word, I can find it on the internet, much like I do when my great-grandchildren text me using initials instead of words.

    I actually enjoy older books for reference.  At a garage sale, I purchased a set of encycopedias from 1925 and do reference them from time to time.  The knowledge included stops at 1925 and that is truly an interesting perspective.

    I reluctantaly agree that dictionaries probably should include current word usage once it is commonly accepted.  However, it would probably be useful to add definitions instead of trumping them. Currently "they" falls in that category.  Upon looking up "gay" in Meriam Webster, the new version of the word as relating to sexual preference now holds the primary definition with an a. and b. substantiation.  Definitions 2 and 3 explain the merry, bright and lively versions of understanding but they are now afterthoughts.  In my 1986 college dictionary gay, as a homosexual term, lagged in 5th place.

    I was fearful at the thought of looking up up "rainbow".  To my relief it is still an arc containing the colors of the spectrum, period.  Whew!!!!!

  • Janet B
    Posted: Mon, 09/21/2020 05:12 pm

    Re: vaping

    I wonder if the fact that these students were not in school, being pressured by their peers, had anything to do with the drop in vaping.