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Apple Dictionary Includes Surprising Definition of 'Gay': 'Foolish; Stupid' — VIDEO

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Becca Gorman, of Sudbury, Massachusetts, got a bit of a surprise while doing research for a high school project last week.  When she looked up the word 'gay' in her MacBook Pro laptop's dictionary, the first two definitions weren't too unexpected: "1 (of a person, esp. a man) homosexual," "2 lighthearted and carefree."  But the third definition shocked her: "informal foolish; stupid: making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule."

"At first, I was kind of in disbelief," the Lincoln-Sudbury High sophomore told Boston ABC affiliate WCVB.  Gorman's parents are a lesbian couple, and she was amazed to hear a slur that had been thrown around in high school included in a major company's electronic dictionary. "I felt like they had to take care of it," she said.  So she emailed off a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook:

"I assume that you are a pro-gay company, and would never intend for any one of your products to be as offensive as this definition was. Even with your addition of the word informal, this definition normalizes the terrible derogatory twist that many people put on the word 'gay.'"

As ABC reported, Gorman received a call from Apple only an hour after she sent the email:

"They told me it's so hard to track the dictionaries they're getting sources from," said Gorman. The representative was also shocked at the offensive definition, and that the company would look into the problem.

Earlier this month, Cook penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal encouraging Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  
"Those who have suffered discrimination have paid the greatest price for this lack of legal protection," Cook said in his opinion piece. "But ultimately we all pay a price. If our coworkers cannot be themselves in the workplace, they certainly cannot be their best selves. When that happens, we undermine people's potential and deny ourselves and our society the full benefits of those individuals' talents."

For now, even though the company Cook leads has robust non-discrimination policies, the questionable definition of 'gay' in its dictionary app persists.  In iOS7, the company's most recent mobile operating system, the third definition of 'gay' at least mentions that it is both "informal" and "often offensive." That's a start, but Apple still has a ways to go, and Gorman is committed to making sure the company expunges the definition.

"I feel like we're going to have to make a bigger deal about it before they actually act on it," she said.

Watch ABC News' report, AFTER THE JUMP...

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  1. Should dictionaries now not include the pejorative and slang/informal use of the word when it includes it for every other pejorative word? Sorry, but I'm not into book burning, no matter what someone wants to complain about. Facts are facts. Currently, it's used in a certain way in certain contexts, and pretending that it isn't or lying about that is a disservice to academia.

    Posted by: Joey Y | Nov 13, 2013 11:31:57 AM

  2. Cue everyone's panties getting in a bunch over this, but the dictionary isnt making a judgment on the word, it is just accurately defining it. Right or wrong, "gay" is used in that informal context sometimes. Sorry word police and girl with sensitive lesbo parents.

    Posted by: Lisa G | Nov 13, 2013 11:34:17 AM

  3. Dictionaries are not prescriptive; they are descriptive. That is to say, they do not determine usages and meanings, they merely report what those usages and meanings are. Some people use "gay" to mean foolish and stupid, whether we like it or not. Therefore, that usage should be recorded. And I saying this as both a gay man and as an English teacher with roughly 30 years experience.

    Posted by: Clayton | Nov 13, 2013 11:35:20 AM

  4. Language is a living thing that changes over time - presently, "gay" does mean all the things listed by Apple. We have no more ownership of the word "gay" than did the people who originally used it to mean "happy." In another 25 years, the word could have a new meaning or fall out of use altogether.

    Posted by: Ken | Nov 13, 2013 11:40:44 AM

  5. Apple wrote the dictionary app, but the dictionary itself is licensed from the Oxford University Press. I don't think Apple has any control over the content - any changes to that probably have to come from the publisher.

    Posted by: cm | Nov 13, 2013 11:43:20 AM

  6. So let me get this straight (as it were): you have 30 years of experience as an English teacher and have never used a dictionary prescriptively in your teaching by telling a student to look up a word they've used incorrectly or didn't understand? I call shenanigans either on your assertion or on your pedagogy. Dictionaries ABSOLUTELY have a prescriptive component, when people are learning meanings of words from them. The lexicographer who created that entry (if indeed it was even someone with any training; the article suggests that sourcing was questionable) should be ashamed for having included that definition and designating it only as "informal."

    Posted by: CC | Nov 13, 2013 11:43:58 AM

  7. But only teens and young people use gay in that context, well some of them do. If only a certain demographic uses gay like that, should it still be in a dictionary? It's not like it's universal.

    Also, why is it especially a man? Is that not prescriptive ???

    I think it should be taken out of the dictionary.

    Posted by: Poe | Nov 13, 2013 11:44:29 AM

  8. Also, this is amazing, what is going on at Apple? Apple has a bizarre unwillingness to gay people.

    Posted by: Fenrox | Nov 13, 2013 11:47:26 AM

  9. But enough teens use it in that context to the extent that its' usage is regular and , therefore, it should be in the dictionary.

    The dictionary should state, however, that using it in that way is a pejorative.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Nov 13, 2013 11:47:52 AM

  10. I have no problem with that usage being in the dictionary. Btu, it should be listed as "pejorative" and ALWAYS offensive as opposed to only "often" offensive.

    Posted by: anon | Nov 13, 2013 11:52:41 AM

  11. The dictionary SHOULD include that definition because it is, sadly, in common usage. Dictionaries are not arbiters of right and wrong and their definitions should not be seen as prescriptive. Rather, they (attempt to) stand at an objective distance and simply describe the English language as it exists now and has existed in the past.

    BUT: It should identify this particular definition as 'offensive/pejorative' rather than merely 'informal.' This is a no-brainer, people.

    Posted by: Lars | Nov 13, 2013 11:52:51 AM

  12. Well, dictionaries identify the word breeder as an offensive slang word for heterosexual.

    If anything, they should at least call it offensive. Being foolish is NOT being gay ffs.

    Posted by: Poe | Nov 13, 2013 11:54:52 AM

  13. People, "gay" to mean homosexual or bisexual is slang. It's popular and accepted slang, but it's slang. Slang, by definition often has more than one meaning. I am curious though, to know what the dictionary says that "slant" or "nigqer" means.

    Posted by: endorisha | Nov 13, 2013 11:55:16 AM

  14. @CC: false. Clayton has it absolutely correct insofar as dictionaries are descriptive rather than prescriptive. Part of being a good English teacher is helping students understand this distinction. The only thing I would add to Clayton's comment that, as mentioned above, this particular use of the word is blatantly offensive and the dictionary should say as much. But to scrub the third definition entirely, would be to ignore reality.

    By your reasoning, CC, kids should be free to throw around the n-word because, hey, it's in the dictionary after all!

    Posted by: Lars | Nov 13, 2013 11:59:46 AM

  15. The dictionary absolutely should include that usage, but indicate that it's considered to be an offensive term. That's what a dictionary id FOR.

    Posted by: plinx | Nov 13, 2013 12:04:15 PM

  16. The dictionary was right to include a definition that is commonly used, whether we like how it's used or not.

    Posted by: Neil | Nov 13, 2013 12:09:41 PM

  17. The Dictionary app in Apple's Mac OS is made up of several different resources: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Apple and Wikipedia. If you click on Apple and look up "gay" you get "No entries found."

    However, If you click on Dictionary (which is the New Oxford American Dictionary) or All, you will find the definition that some people are objecting to and in Mac OS X 10.9 (the latest version of the Mac OS) the 3rd definition is:

    "3 informal, often offensive foolish, stupid, or unimpressive: making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule."

    I think any criticism should be directed at the source of the definition "New Oxford American Dictionary", but then again, I have to wonder what a dictionary is supposed to do... I believe it is supposed to provide the definition of a word, whether we find it objectionable or not... People use the word "gay" in that manner, so the Dictionary is just reflecting life.

    Posted by: David | Nov 13, 2013 12:11:28 PM

  18. One more thing, sorry, but it's NOT just "teens" who use the word that way. It's been thrown around for decades in that context, so some of the people using it that way are in their forties now. That's a fact. Again, lying about it doesn't accomplish anything, and since they are referring to a situation rather than a person, can it properly be labeled as "pejorative?" Usually for something to be pejorative you have to lack respect for something, but you can't exactly "respect," say, a slow stoplight.

    Posted by: Joey Y | Nov 13, 2013 12:12:07 PM

  19. @Clayton I understand that the dictionary is just doing its job, but this girl still has every reason to be concerned about the definition's inclusion because of the potential consequences. People cite the dictionary to justify all sorts of definitions, as if it was completely infallible and the absolute authority on the English language. For instance: MRA's claiming sexism against men exists because the dictionary said so, which completely ignores and contradicts the definition in social justice circles (ism = prejudice + power). When there is a conflict in definitions like this, people tend to side with the dictionary because it's "academic". Now imagine what would happen the next time someone used gay as a pejorative and you called them out on it. They could cite the dictionary to justify and perpetuate the usage of the word. Also notice how the definition says "usually offensive", implying that the burden falls on people to be offended vs. just using gay in that context is "offensive". Full stop. I'm dreading the consequences because when people use the dictionary like this it's honestly no different from people citing Bible verses to condemn gays.

    Posted by: Unicorn | Nov 13, 2013 12:16:49 PM

  20. Anyone offended by this or thinking they should "change" it is an utter imbecile. Stop embarrassing us.

    Posted by: denizo | Nov 13, 2013 12:18:57 PM

  21. Unfortunately, "stupid" has become one meaning of the word gay. Dictionaries reflect reality. I don't know what the solution is, but it isn't to censor dictionaries.

    Posted by: Ken | Nov 13, 2013 12:24:47 PM

  22. I find this unacceptable. I also find the new definition of "literally" which means the exact opposite unacceptable. And yes, I accept language does change over time, but that doesn't mean you should just give in to the idiots. THE IDIOTS ARE WINNING.

    Posted by: danswon | Nov 13, 2013 12:28:01 PM

  23. But a lot of you are missing the point. It should be a labeled an offensive informal meaning of the word stupid, not just an informal meaning. IT IS OFFENSIVE.

    Posted by: Poe | Nov 13, 2013 12:28:02 PM

  24. Are we even allowed to be Gay anymore? I thought we were have been forced into being the LGBTQIXYZINGXOXO community whether we like it or not.

    Posted by: Homo Genius | Nov 13, 2013 12:31:10 PM

  25. Is the N-word in the dictionary?

    Posted by: Jack M | Nov 13, 2013 12:39:20 PM

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