After Merriam-Webster added "cisgender" and "genderqueer" to its unabridged dictionary last week, some people raised questions that were really thinly veiled criticisms of the publisher's decision to be more inclusive.
The publisher responded with style on Monday, noting that it tends to define words because people need definitions:
People keep— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) April 25, 2016
1) saying they don't know what 'genderqueer' means
2) asking why we added it to the dictionary pic.twitter.com/wsGZ7Y6XB8
While some people may not like it, the addition reflects society's expanding discussions of gender identity and gender expression: As conversations about gender broaden, the vocabulary used in these conversations is set to change, too.
The vocabulary around gender is a fairly tricky part of discussing these issues today. Pronouns, for example, can get difficult when someone doesn't identify as male or female. Do you refer to them as they instead of he or she, or use one of the invented pronouns like ne, ve, ey, ze, or xe? (Generally, the advice from LGBTQ groups is to just ask and use what people prefer.)
But how do you refer to an uncle or aunt if they identify as genderqueer — so male or female don't necessarily apply to them? Or niece and nephew? These are issues that we just don't have good answers to, but will likely get worked out eventually. After all, language is hugely adaptive and changing all the time. (Update: A reader points out "nibling" is already used to address a sibling's offspring in a gender-neutral way.)
So Merriam-Webster's additions show the vocabulary we use for gender is changing, but there's still a lot more change likely to come — and maybe more opportunities to throw shade at the haters.