Sex and gender (initial notes & references)
This important topic covers a number of different areas, including
- OED’s decisions, over the course of its editorial history, to include or exclude terms related to sex, sexuality and the body. Famously, OED1 did not include cunt or fuck, along with several other words such as condom, and many such words did not enter the Dictionary until Burchfield’s Supplement of 1972-86. The 1933 Supplement included homosexual but not the sexual sense of lesbian, which also had to wait till the 1972-86 Supplement. See further Turton 2020, Brewer 2007b: 49-50, and our Case study on terms for lesbianism
- How OED defined, labelled and otherwise treated such terms when they were included, including the choice of evidential quotations – or indeed the decision to leave terms without quotation evidence altogether, as was the case with some words included in OED11
- OED’s representation (again, over the course of its editorial history) of issues relating to the rights of women and its representation of women more generally, for example in definitions relating to women’s suffrage, or in its choice of quotations by male or female authors. On the former, see articles by Mugglestone listed below. For OED’s use of quotations from female-authored sources see EOED pages on Fe/male sources and 18th-century Leverhulme study. In recent years, campaigners have objected to the differential treatment in Oxford dictionaries more generally of woman, man, and related terms, including the choice of illustrative quotations. See reports at
- OED’s representation of vocabulary and concepts relating to non-binary, transgender or gender-neutral issues of different kinds. OED has published a range of relevant new entries or additions to existing entries, for example the gender-neutral pronoun ze; see screen-shot in our page on OED Online’s Continuous change, and the non-binary use of pronouns they/them/their, see discussion in Keeping up with contemporary dictionaries on our Dictionaries page (in Topics). However, its treatment in general remains spotty and inconsistent, as shown by Lo Vecchio 2021 (details below).
Other useful published work includes notes and a short article (co-)authored by lexicographers (Dent 2018, Rees and Steddall 2019) as well as academic journal contributions:
- Dent, Jonathan, 2018. ‘Release notes: the formal language of sexuality and gender identity’. OED blogpost, March 2018: https://public.oed.com/blog/march-2018-update-release-notes-formal-language-sexuality-gender-identity/ [accessed 28 August 2019]
- Lo Vecchio, Nicholas, 2021. ‘Updating the OED on the Historical LGBTQ Lexicon’, Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, 42, 95-164; available at http://doi.org/10.1353/dic.2021.0003 [accessed 13 October 2021; subscription required]
- Mugglestone, Lynda, 2007a. ‘”Decent Reticence”: Coarseness, Contraception, and the First Edition of the OED‘, Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, 28, 1-22
- Mugglestone, Lynda, 2007b. ‘”The Indefinable Something’. Taboo and the English Dictionary’, in Rude Britannia, ed. M. Gorji. London: Routledge, 22-32
- Mugglestone, Lynda. 2013a. ‘Acts of Representation: Writing the Woman Question in the Oxford English Dictionary.” Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, 34: 39–65
- Rees, E. and E. Stedall, 2019. ‘Helping the OED to turn over a new fig leaf.’ Times Higher Education Supplement, 25 September: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/helping-oed-turn-over-new-fig-leaf [accessed 14 October 2020]
- Turton, Stephen, 2020. ‘The confessional sciences: scientific lexicography and sexology in the Oxford English Dictionary, Language & History. Advance online publication at https://doi.org/10.1080/17597536.2020.1755204
Information about the treatment of individual terms and definitions can also be found in Brewer 2007b, via the Index of words, and in Brewer, Charlotte, 2013a. ‘OED Online Re-launched: Distinguishing old scholarship from new’, Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, 34, 101-26.
For OED’s use of quotations from female-authored sources, see EOED pages on Fe/male sources and the publications there listed.
Last updated on 23 May 2022
- For example, OED1 defined one of the possible senses of cock as ‘penis’, adding a note to say ‘The current name among the people, but, pudoris causa [‘for reasons of modesty’], not admissible in polite speech or literature; in scientific language the Latin is used’, and supply three textual references to its use – but did not print the quotations concerned.