Erin Donnelly, Yahoo, March 11, 2021
As part of its ongoing efforts to feature language that is more inclusive and reflective of modern-day society, Dictionary.com will no longer include the word “slave” as a noun identifying a person, instead using the adjective “enslaved” or referencing the institution of slavery. The change is one of 7,600 updates the online resource has announced, which also include the addition of terms relevant to race, social justice and identity, such as “BIPOC” (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and “Critical Race Theory.”
The latest updates — which also include capitalizing “Indigenous” when referring to people, and adding entries for “racialization,” “disenfranchisement” and “overpolice” — follow those announced last September. That round of revisions saw the capitalization of the word Black in reference to people, and the addition of terms relevant to mental health (specifically, suicide and addiction) and LGBTQ identity. John Kelly, managing editor of Dictionary.com, tells Yahoo Life that the changes are an important part of respecting the power of language and its ability to offer representation and dignity.
Kelly cites Dictionary.com’s entry on Harriet Tubman as a “powerful example of this change.”
“Our old, very outdated definition described her as “U.S. abolitionist, escaped slave and leader of the Underground Railroad”… but what is the effect of calling Tubman an escaped slave?” he notes. “It’s dehumanizing. It’s dehumanizing to her, it’s dehumanizing to all of those people who were subjected to chattel slavery, It takes away her agency and does not hold enslavers accountable.”
Tubman is now identified as having “escaped slavery,” an edit which Kelly calls “subtle” but “profound.” He adds that the new policy regarding “slave” has involved revisions to entries such as “mistress,” “master,” “Juneeteenth,” “plantation” and “Black Code,” as well as biographical entries.