Julia Gillard

How Misogyny got a new Definition in Australia

Julia Gillard

Today we have an interesting story from Australia that shows how the use of words and therefore their meaning might change over time.

The respective word is ‘misogyny’ which describes hatred against women. Now, the Australia’s prime minister who happens to be a woman used the word a bit differently in one of her latest speeches during a parliamentary debate.

Julia Gillard spoke against sexism and called opposition leader Tony Abbott a misogynist as he suggested that men were better adapted to exercise authority than women. Gillard was thus using the word in the sense that Abbotts sexist views were discriminatory.

Whether she intended to use ‘misogyny’ in exactly that sense or she was uninformed or negligent about its very meaning, the consequences are quite big. Not only has her speech since become an Internet sensation but even Australia’s leading dictionary, Macquarie, has decided to broaden the definition. Misogyny now reads as ‘entrenched prejudice against women’. You can watch her fiery speech below.

You might say that one person even though she is in the public eye should not have that much influence to change the meaning of a word. According to dictionary editor Sue Butler the language community has used misogyny in this wider sense for some 30 years.

Gillard for herself is aware that her speech has made quite some waves, but will “leave editing dictionaries to those whose special expertise is language”.

The opposition sees the dictionary’s move as ridiculous and take Gillard’s speech as a cheap and personal attack against Abbott. Interestingly, his wife and three daughters have since made public appearances. Does it mean he is not this tough in the end?

For us interested in the consequences of not the political implications but the language side of things, this is another nice example how an adapted or in this case modernized definition of a word makes it into an official dictionary.

If you are interested in how language changes over time, we also covered the latest words from everyday language that made it into the latest editions of Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries Online.

via MSNBC | Picture by Kate Lundy, via Wikimedia Commons