Apple amends dictionary definition after complaints

David Price
18 November, 2013
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It appears that Apple is currently amending at least one of its English dictionaries, after a 15-year-old US student discovered that one of the informal definitions of the word gay was given as “foolish, stupid or unimpressive”.

According to Pink News, the student’s campaign to have the definition changed has borne so-far limited fruit: “On the MacBook Pro, the word is currently unavailable. If the user enters the search term ‘gay’, they are asked if they were searching for the word ‘ay’ instead.” It’s possible that a new definition will emerge shortly.

Spot checks

Before writing this article I checked the dictionary on my iPad Air, and this shows the old third definition, except with the words “often offensive”.


Original iPad running iOS 5.1.1

“Gay adjective 3 informal, often offensive foolish, stupid, or unimpressive: making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule.”

It’s possible, however, that updating to iOS 7.0.4 will see this change; the iPad tested was still running iOS 7.0.3.

The facts of the case aren’t entirely clear at this point, then, but we can safely point out a couple of things.

One is that Apple doesn’t make its own dictionaries: this one is provided by the New Oxford American Dictionary, and Apple clearly doesn’t have time to vet every entry in every one of the dictionaries it offers. (Of course, that doesn’t prevent Apple from acting to remove terms when they are pointed out by users, as it appears to be doing here.)

The second is that, as a general principle, dictionaries are supposed to describe rather than prescribe – it’s society’s fault that the word gay is used in this undoubtedly hurtful and damaging way, not the that of the dictionary writers. The dictionary does at least include the label ‘offensive’.

Still, we can certainly sympathise with a child of lesbian parents who found what appeared to be at least an acknowledgement of the word’s most aggressive definition.

And Apple has a generally exemplary record when it comes to its treatment of and respect for gay men and women, signing a filing that backed gay marriage, for instance (a cause the company had previously donated US$100,000 to supporting) and adding ‘gay icons’ to iOS 6′s range of emoji characters.


iMac running OSX 10.7.5; Dictionary version 2.2.3

by David Price, Macworld


3 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Tony says:

    Apples response sounds like a prime example of where that definition could be used.

  2. Mike Turner says:

    Could you please stop the ridiculous pop up banners touting for subscription to the Macworld newsletter. Or at the very least see if there is some way of displaying these begging banners only to those who are not subscribers.

    It is redundant and really annoying to existing subscribers who follow links from the newsletters they receive only to be confronted with a banner asking them to subscribe yet again.


  3. Macworld Australia Staff says:

    Hi Mike – Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I’ve forwarded your comments to the relevant department, which is investigating why that is happening and, hopefully, fixing it quickly.

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