Identitarianism wants to change the meaning of words. Are dictionaries obeying?

The Merriam-Webster American English Dictionary has drawn the ire of conservatives for redefining words in a way they consider more amenable to progressivism than the usual meaning of words. The main changes were made in 2010, the year in which the racial identity agenda reached a zenith in American culture. The word “racism” was changed at the request of an activist to include “systemic oppression”. In making the change, editor Alex Chambers thanked the activist for her insistence and apologized “for the harm or offense we have caused by failing to address the issue sooner.”

words related to gender have had changes that consist especially of making reservations. While the Merriam-Webster edition of 2004 associated female with “having some quality (such as kindness) associated with the female sex”, in 2020 the caveat “sometimes associated with the female sex” was introduced. The female has gone from being a being that definitely “produces eggs” to a being that only “typically” does so. The term “gender identity” was also introduced.

In Brazil, attempts to take control of the Portuguese language and guide it to other purposes are more in lists of terms or expressions not recommended. One of the most notorious is the booklet “Politically Correct & Human Rights” published in 2004 by a secretary of Lula’s presidency. With the appearance of a specialized dictionary, the booklet argues, for example, that “veado” is a prejudiced reference to male homosexuals, but lists “understood” among the “appropriate expressions”. It also claims that “elemento” is a term intended to “disqualify people suspected of committing crimes”.

The booklet does not have the same respect as Portuguese dictionaries such as Aurélio , Houaiss and Silveira Bueno. The report looked for different editions of these dictionaries, printed and available on the internet, with years of difference, to investigate whether a phenomenon similar to the one observed in English in Merriam-Webster could be underway in Brazil. He also checked the Portuguese Orthographic Vocabulary (VOLP) of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, which does not give definitions, but serves as a list of recognized words; and the Priberam online dictionary, from Portugal.

Entries on gender and sexuality in the Portuguese language

)By defining feminism (“doctrine that advocates the improvement and expansion of the role and rights of women in society”, “theory that sustains equality (…) of both sexes”), the Grande Houaiss Dictionary online — offered by UOL and published since 2012 — suggests a comparison with “masculinism”, defined negatively three times as “presumption of primacy of men’s rights in society”, “ defense of behavior, values, etc. considered as characteristically masculine, without equivalence with those of women” and “antifeminism, machismo”.

In comparison, the first edition of Houaiss, published by Objetiva in 2001, brings essentially the same definition of feminism, but without the suggestion of comparing it with “masculinism”, an entry that does not exist in it. Just as there are feminist activists who say they seek equality between the sexes, there are also masculine activists who say the same about masculinism. It is possible to find counterexamples of anti-egalitarian ideas and actions in both movements, especially among activists who define themselves as “radicals”. The innovation in Houaiss online since its first edition takes a side in this political clash.

The Silveira Bueno mini dictionary, in the second edition of the FTD in

, is more succinct: feminism is “a movement that preaches equality between the sexes”. The entry “masculinism” is also not included. The same occurs in different versions of Aurélio, such as the second edition of 1986 by Nova Fronteira, the mini-dictionary in the eighth edition of Positivo, by 2010, and the fifth edition of the same year and the same publisher used in the Aurélio Digital application. The VOLP accepts the words “feminism”, “feminist”, “masculinism” and “masculinist”, while Priberam gives a generic definition of “masculinism”, unrelated to political issues, and is the only one consulted that includes the entry “femism” and defines it as a “line of thought according to which women socially dominate men and deny them the same rights and prerogatives”, which is quite similar to their definition of “machismo”, changing the sexes.

Among the dictionaries consulted, no definitions of “man”, “woman”, “girl” and “boy” were found that have the same signs of influence of identity as those found in Merriam- Webster. Curiously, contrary to gender identity, Houaiss, since the first edition, includes among the definitions of man a male person “in which qualities such as courage, strength, determination, sexual vigor stand out”, giving as an example “João is a man enough to face this setback.” And, like the older versions of Merriam-Webster, it defines woman without reservations as a being “sensitive, delicate, affective, intuitive”.

“Homophobia” is absent from Aurélio de 1955, but present in the newest editions, in addition to Houaiss and Silveira Bueno, which also bring “homosexualism”, which activists dislike, along with “homosexuality”, which they prefer. “Heterosexuality” and “heterosexuality” are also offered as synonyms for people with attraction to the opposite sex, which challenges the idea held by many activists that the suffix “-ism” is only used for an old-fashioned connotation of being gay as a disease.

The words “sexism” and “misandria” (aversion to men) are also not included in the second edition of Aurélio, but “misogyny” (aversion to women) and “misanthropy” are found. ” (aversion to people).

Racial issues in dictionaries

The dictionaries consulted do not present the identitary version of “denigrate” on social networks, which claim that the verb is a pejorative allusion to black skin. Where they mention “on the thighs” or “make on the thighs”, they also do not present the false etymology according to which this would be a reference to tiles made using slaves’ thighs as molds. The main dictionaries of the Portuguese language also make no mention of the redefinition of “racism” by identitarians, who want to introduce “power” into the semantics of the word to veto that racism can happen in surprising directions in which blacks can also be racist instead of just being racist. victims of racism. Also, for the time being, they have not adhered to the formulation “structural racism” or “systemic racism”.

A word that is treated as undesirable by anti-racist activism, but was quite common a few years ago , is “mulatto”. Here, the etymologies agree with activists that the word is related to mule. The Etymological Dictionary of Professor Emeritus of Colégio Pedro II Antenor Nascentes, from 1955, emphasizes that this comparison is due to the crossing of different lineages: “ What did a hybrid product mean? , later came to apply to the child of a white man and a black woman or vice versa”. The first edition of Houaiss gives “little donkey” as one of the definitions. Nascentes cites an example of this usage in the medieval troubadour Gil Vicente, rejects an alternative etymology that places the Arabic root mowallad (son from Arabic to foreigner), and neutrally mentions Fernando Ortiz’s alternative, according to which “mulatto” came “from mandinga malato, [que significa] lightened, not dark.”

However, activists and the politically correct booklet of the first Lula administration claim that the root of a mulatto in a mule is not just by the hybridization of two different equine lineages, but which would have the main element of dehumanization by comparison to the animal. It is true that mulatto was used in a pejorative way against many people, including Father Antônio Vieira (-1697)). But there were and still are neutral and even positive jobs. As it is the usage that makes the meaning, activists are currently most responsible for the growing perception that the word “mulatto” is only negative and never neutral or positive. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Another area of ​​language in which identity activism makes pressure is on neologisms and new expressions that fall into the mouth of the press and from it to the people. The Merriam-Webster dictionary is constantly screening and including these innovations. For example, it included the verb “deplatform”, something like “remove from a platform”, a verb that identitarians use to mitigate their frequent adherence to censorship tactics. Words that have become trending among libertarians and conservatives, such as a new meaning for “based” (something like “well-grounded”, used to praise people who say things that resonate with their beliefs), don’t get the same attention.

In our language, the Portuguese dictionary Priberam has added an informal Brazilian sense of lacrar: “stand out for being or doing something with excellence, quality or success; be amazing”.

Mitar was also included with a similar meaning: “to do something with great quality and in an extraordinary or legendary way; to stand out for excellence in the accomplishment of something”. In this, Priberam is not accompanied by Aurélio or Houaiss — for Brazilian dictionaries and for ABL, the verb mitar

does not exists. It seems that Portuguese dictionaries are following Tupiniquim politics more than Brazilians.

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