You wouldn’t imagine the fusty world of dictionaries could spark much controversy but in Australia the definition of the word misogyny has done just that. Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has come under fire for supposedly misusing the word misogyny when critiquing the leader of the opposition. Prompted by this incident, one of Australia’s most respected dictionaries, the Macquarie Dictionary, has decided to update it’s definition of the word. From solely meaning a person that hates women the¬†Macquarie Dictionary has decided to also include it’s common usage meaning “entrenched prejudice against women”.

“Since the 1980s, misogyny has come to be used as a synonym for sexism, a synonym with bite, but nevertheless with the meaning of entrenched prejudice against women rather than pathological hatred,” [Sue Butler, editor of the Macquarie Dictionary] said in a statement.

While the Oxford English Dictionary had reworded its definition a decade ago, staff at the Macquarie had been alerted to the issue only in the aftermath of Gillard’s extraordinary speech in parliament, she said. “Perhaps as dictionary editors we should have noticed this before it was so rudely thrust in front of us as something that we’d overlooked,” Butler told the Associated Press.

[Source – The Guardian]

This story is fascinating to me because it shows how much power dictionary makers have. Redefining a word or merely adding another usage to it’s meaning can have large scale consequences. Amazingly a small alteration of the word misogyny in one dictionary is causing a political firestorm in Australia today.