What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word “rabid”? Is it a rabid animal? Rabid enthusiasm? Or perhaps a rabid feminist?
Last Wednesday, Michael Oman-Reagan, a doctoral candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland, tweeted at Oxford University Press, which publishes Oxford Dictionaries. He expressed concern about their primary usage example for the word “rabid” which equated “fanaticism” with “feminism.”
If only there were a word to describe how strongly you felt about feminism… https://t.co/mAsmjUBoOs— Oxford Languages (@OxLanguages) January 22, 2016
The company continued by tweeting that the negative connotations associated with “rabid” do not reflect a full understanding of the word.
Btw, 'rabid' isn't always negative, and our example sentences come from real-world use and aren't definitions: https://t.co/npaVgBahOM— Oxford Languages (@OxLanguages) January 22, 2016
The above tweet also links to Oxford’s help page on example sentences, which explains that all of the usage example used on the site “are real examples of usage …taken from a huge variety of different sources.” The page also includes a disclaimer that “[o]pinions and views expressed in the usage examples are the views of the individuals concerned and are not endorsed by Oxford University Press.”
Despite Oxford’s initial defense, Oman-Reagan and others on Twitter continued to take issue with the dictionary’s use of the “rabid feminists” example, culminating in the creation of the #OxfordSexism hashtag.
On Saturday, however, Oxford finally offered an apology on Twitter in a series of four tweets, calling their initial response “flippant” and promising to “review” the primary usage example.
1/4 We were flippant in some of our tweets yesterday. Sorry.— Oxford Languages (@OxLanguages) January 23, 2016
2/4 'rabid fan' now has the highest frequency in the Oxford Corpus & 'rabid supporter' also frequent.— Oxford Languages (@OxLanguages) January 23, 2016
3/4 We'll review the primary example sentence used for 'rabid'.— Oxford Languages (@OxLanguages) January 23, 2016
4/4 You can find out more about where our example sentences come from here: https://t.co/KotzmcYiaU— Oxford Languages (@OxLanguages) January 23, 2016
Kate Farquhar-Thomson, Oxford University Press’s Head of Publicity, expanded on that apology this morning, in an official statement emailed to the Daily Dot:
“On Friday we made some ill-judged comments on Twitter in response to a question about the example usage of the word ‘rabid’ on oxforddictionaries.com. We apologise for the offence that these comments caused. The example sentences we use are taken from a huge variety of different sources and do not represent the views or opinions of Oxford University Press. That said, we are now reviewing the example sentence for ‘rabid’ to ensure that it reflects current usage.”
For a full account of the discussion sparked by Oman-Reagan’s tweet to Oxford, musician Megan Lynch has created a comprehensive record on Storify.
Image via Ali from Riyadh/Flickr (CC by 2.0)