Dictionary Boycotts and the Power of Popular (Re)Definition1

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The recent history of English language dictionary boycotts, petitions, and protests evidences how public expectations and demands of dictionaries shape lexicographical history and praxis. Widely publicized campaigns by the NAACP, feminist organizations, ethnic groups, and subcultural caucuses have accused mainstream dictionaries of endorsing damaging social stereotypes. In addition to demanding audits of dictionary-maker demographics, such boycotts have advocated revision strategies beyond or at odds with established lexicographical methods. While boycotts have often successfully secured lexicographical change, that change has been limited in scope. Accordingly, this paper suggests that, to be more publicly accountable and socially responsible, dictionaries need read public protests as mandates to cultivate a more ethical, reflexive, and relational mode of lexicographical praxis. Please note that this article contains words that can be used as racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-247
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Boycott
  • History
  • Homophobia
  • Protest
  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Slurs
  • Usage labels
  • Usage notes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

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