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US Merriam-Webster dictionary updates 'sexual preference' entry after Amy Coney Barrett hearing

11:30  16 october  2020
11:30  16 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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Merriam-Webster, the noted reference book and dictionary publisher, added the word "offensive" to its entry and usage guidance of "preference" and "sexual preference" when referring to sexual orientation after the issue came up during Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

During the hearing Tuesday, Barrett was asked whether she agrees with the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s criticism of the same-sex marriage ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges – the landmark case which legalized gay marriage in the United States and which advocates worry Barrett would not support if confirmed to the nation's highest court.

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Barrett's answered, “I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would never discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.”

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That response drew considerable blowback LGBTQ advocates who say “sexual preference” wrongly implies that sexuality is a choice.

Some conservative Twitter users were quick to note the dictionary change, and a search in the Wayback Machine, a website that archives Internet webpages, shows that as recently as late September the definition of "preference" in regard to sexual orientation did not have the word "offensive" attached to it.

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The dictionary is continually revised and updated, and Merriam-Webster makes scheduled changes several times a year to add or update words and their definitions and uses, Peter Sokolowski, the dictionary's editor at large, said in a statement.

"From time to time, we release one or some of these scheduled changes early when a word or set of words is getting extra attention, and it would seem timely to share that update," Sokolowski said.

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"In this case, we released the update for sexual preference when we noticed that the entries for preference and sexual preference were being consulted in connection with the SCOTUS hearings. A revision made in response to an entry's increased attention differs only in celerity – as always, all revisions reflect evidence of use."

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According to the new usage guidance from the dictionary, "The term preference as used to refer to sexual orientation is widely considered offensive in its implied suggestion that a person can choose who they are sexually or romantically attracted to."

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Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, later slammed Barrett, saying the judge used an "offensive and outdated term."

Barrett apologized after Hirono spoke, saying, "I certainly didn't mean, and would never mean, to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community. So if I did, I greatly apologize for that."

Contributing: Savannah Behrmann

Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Merriam-Webster dictionary updates 'sexual preference' entry after Amy Coney Barrett hearing

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