“Polysexual,” “amalgagender” and “gay marry” are among the new words and phrases added to Dictionary.com this year, in a revision that also included the removal of gendered pronouns from hundreds of definitions, the company announced Wednesday.
The online dictionary added 566 new words, many of which relate to identity and relationships, pop culture and artificial intelligence. Several new words describing identity and relationships involve the LGBTQ community.
“Gender and identity have been particularly dynamic, and productive areas of language change in the past 15 years or so,” John Kelly, vice president of editorial at Dictionary.com, told NBC News. “Whether it be socially or medically, there is a vocabulary component that is emerging, breaking through into the mainstream, that people need to know that they’re going to encounter.”
Amalgagender, one of the new words, refers to the gender identity of some intersex people. Polyromantic is a person romantically attracted to people of various genders, and polysexual is a person sexually attracted to people of various genders.
Kelly said the company uses four criteria to determine whether a word should be added to its dictionary: “Is it widely used, does it have shared meaning, does it demonstrate staying power and is it going to be useful for a general audience.”
More than 2,000 definitions of existing words have also been revised, and about 400 of these were updated to either replace or remove gendered pronouns, Kelly said.
“Not only does ‘him or her’ reduce the options in the example to a binary gender, but it also is harder to read and understand,” Kelly said.
One of the updated definitions is for the word “volunteer,” which went from, “A person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking” to, “A person who offers to perform a service or undertaking.”
“We don’t go about our lives going, ‘Hey, I’m looking for some volunteers, you know, someone who offers himself or herself to do that.’ That construction is cumbersome and exclusive and we were overdue to make that change across our dictionary,” Kelly said.
Resistance toward the use of transgender and nonbinary people’s preferred pronouns and a rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide have created a tense dialogue surrounding language used by LGBTQ people and allies.
“Language really is a lightning rod,” Kelly said. “All of a sudden it can feel, when these new words get announced, that there’s an agenda behind it. I want to be clear: There isn’t an agenda; there is documentation.”
This documentation, he added, shows that language is in fact changing.
“Whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, whether it’s our personal views or not,” he said, “it’s our job to be a service to people to capture that language as objectively as possible.”
The company has added dozens of new words and phrases that relate to the LGBTQ community in recent years. “Demisexual,” “neopronoun” and “aromantic” were among last year’s new additions.
Adding new words and updating definitions is standard practice among prominent dictionary publishers. Major dictionaries including the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Macmillan English Dictionary and Collins English Dictionary frequently publish updated versions.
The effort to diversify dictionary editions has also been widespread in the industry. Last year, Oxford University Press announced it would publish its first “Oxford Dictionary of African American English” edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr.