Last week, Australia's Julia Gillard, the first woman to serve as the country's prime minister, gave an impassioned speech against sexism, accusing conservative Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of being a misogynist. That video made its way around the Internet, as these things do, to the applause and "you go, girl" of many and the predictable anger and criticism of others.
"I will not be lectured about sexism or misogyny by this man ... not now, not ever," she said. "If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror." She goes on to give numerous examples to uphold her claim, including Abbott's references to her as a "witch" and someone who needs to "make an honest woman" of herself. If you missed it, here it is, in all its glory:
Abbott responded calling the speech "cheap" and a personal attack, part of a government smear campaign. But inspired by Gillard's words, according to Reuter's James Grubel, Australia's national Macquarie Dictionary, edited by Susan Butler, is expanding its definition of the word misogyny to keep up with the times.
The dictionary currently defines misogyny as "hatred of women", but will now add a second definition to include "entrenched prejudice against women," suggesting Abbott discriminated against women with his sexist views.
Seems a slight shift, although reaction to the news of a change in the 400-year-plus definition of misogyny has, of course, varied. Is Butler diluting a word, or expanding a definition? Is this prescriptivist or descriptivist; the lexical equivalent of jumping the gun or taking the temperature of the day? One point of view is reflected in Australia's Canberra Times:
I expect Ms. Butler is ahead of the crowd with this. The Macquarie often is, which is one reason it struggles for authority among purists. Its sin is not so much that it is "descriptivist," describing what people actually say and mean, rather than 'prescriptivist,' recording what words "ought to mean." Every dictionary is, at the end of the day, descriptivist, and every dictionary more than a year old is, to an extent, out of date. But some lexicographers, following word herds, note and acknowledge shifts in meaning; others, such as Ms Butler, wheel with the headers, race on the wing, where the best and boldest riders take their place. They are first to notice, and, sometimes, as with quantum theory, their very act of noticing causes the change. That's why the Macquarie is fashionable, but not authoritative. It will be a while yet before I personally dilute the vitriol in misogyny.
That original vitriol remains undiluted in, for example, Merriam-Webster's dictionary definition of the word, an entry that notes a first known use in 1656 as, simply, "a hatred of women." Webster's does evolve and change definitions, however, adding them chronologically from oldest to "youngest." Take, for example, the definition of marriage, which has expanded in recent years to include "(2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>"