Merriam-Webster traces its history in the dictionary business back to the early 1800s, when Noah Webster published his A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The Merriam brothers later bought the rights to Webster’s dictionary. The company is currently owned by The Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
Given Merriam-Webster’s longstanding and venerable history, it is curious to see it get involved in hot-button political issues surrounding the confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. The evidence suggests that the dictionary changed its online definition of the word “preference” on Tuesday, after Judge Barrett used the phrase “sexual preference” in response to a question from Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., about how she would handle a case involving same-sex marriage.
“Senator, I have no agenda, and I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference,” Barrett said.
The Left immediately took to social media and swarmed the judge’s use of the phrase “sexual preference.” Within minutes of Judge Barrett’s use of the phrase, criticisms started appearing on Twitter.
For example, Kyle Griffin, a senior producer at MSNBC tweeted, “‘Sexual preference,’ a term used by Justice Barrett, is offensive and outdated. The term implies sexuality is a choice. It is not. News Organizations should not repeat Justice (sic) Barrett’s words without providing that important context.”
By the time the Senate Judiciary round of questioning came to Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, she berated Barrett on the judge’s choice of words in her response to Sen. Feinstein.
“Not once, but twice, you used the term ‘sexual preference’ to describe those in the LGBTQ community. And let me make clear, ‘sexual preference’ is an offensive and outdated term. It is used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice. It is not. Sexual orientation is a key part of a person’s identity. That sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable was a key part of the majority’s opinion in Obergefell, which by the way, Scalia did not agree with.”
Hirono didn’t offer Barret an opportunity to respond to her criticism, so the next senator, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, began her questioning by letting Barrett do so. For her part, Judge Barrett apologized for any offense she may have caused. “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. I simply meant to be referring to Obergefell’s holding with respect to same-sex marriage,” the judge said.
That’s when Steve Krakauer, a producer for Megyn Kelly’s podcast, noticed the subtle change in the definition of “preference” on Merriam-Webster’s website. The word “offensive” was added, indicating the word “preference” would be offensive if combined with the word “sexual.” This change was apparently made in response to what had just occurred in the Senate Judiciary hearing room.
If “sexual preference” is a well-known slur to LGBT Americans, apparently Merriam-Webster did not know this until they were informed by Sen. Hirono.
And many Democrats were also unaware of it. National Review’s “The Corner” points out that the phrase has previously been used by Vice President Joe Biden, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sen. Richard Durban, D-Ill., among others. The latter three are all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Certainly, Judge Barrett did not use the term to denigrate anyone, and it’s disappointing to see those on the Left hypocritically fault her for it. And it is Orwellian to watch Merriam-Webster revise its definition in real time to support the uncivil attack on Barrett that Sen. Hirono felt compelled to make.
The Daily Citizen contacted Merriam-Webster in order to offer a chance to explain the apparent change, but did not hear back by the time we went to publication.
Photo is from Shutterstock.