Cambridge Dictionary’s decision to update the definition of the word “woman” has sparked outrage. Its editors have, however, insisted the new inclusion is something learners “should be aware of”.
Alongside the standard definition of a woman as “an adult female human being”, the online Cambridge Dictionary claims a woman can also be “an adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth”.
One example of this meaning is offered: “She was the first trans woman elected to a national office.”
Another reads: “Mary is a woman who was assigned male at birth.”
The definition of “man” has also been updated.
Challenged on the change, a spokesman for the Dictionary said: “They carefully studied usage patterns of the word ‘woman’ and concluded that this definition is one that learners of English should be aware of to support their understanding of how the language is used.
“The first definition at the entry for woman remains unchanged and continues to be ‘an adult female human being’.
“Our dictionaries are written for learners of English and are designed to help users understand English as it is currently used.”
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“Cambridge Dictionary redefines woman as ‘an adult who lives and identifies as female’. Truly appalling – language shouldn’t be messed around with in this political way.”
The Cambridge Dictionary spokesman said in defence: “[Definitions] are compiled by analysing a large corpus of English texts (over two billion words in total) taken from all areas of writing and publishing, which allows us to see exactly how language is used.
“We regularly update our dictionary to reflect changes in how English is used, based on analysis of data from this corpus.”
Maya Forstater, Executive Cirector of campaign group Sex Matters, insisted, however, that “the primary dictionary definition remains adult human female and male”.
She told the Telegraph: “This is also the legal definition, and the one most people understand.
“People have always used words in different ways and the dictionary reflects that.”