In a win for the LGBTQ community, Merriam-Webster's announced on April 20 the addition of two new words to its unabridged dictionary: cisgender and genderqueer. LGBTQ rights activists have long been working to educate the general population on the meaning of these words and increase sensitivity toward those who identify as such, and the move from Merriam-Webster's is a unique step forward.
But why, exactly? Of course, the most immediate response to this question is that dictionary additions and modifications reflect our evolving language -- and by extension, our evolving culture.
Yet it is this and so much more. Additions to our dictionaries have even greater value in an era of digital media and participatory culture. Social media and digital communication grant the general population the ability to create and distribute new language usage with ease - a peek at urbandictionary.com will show one of the most organized forms of this. When it is this easy for people to modify the English language, what power does a dictionary have? It may often seem like a bygone relic, a sturdy symbol of the print era - of "old media." While it may very well be, its desire to adopt the new language proliferating through the general population reveals not only an attempt to reflect evolving culture, but also a much larger gesture of an older culture encouraging cultural progress toward a new one.
For rights activists, especially those in the LGBTQ community, the dictionary has been and will continue to be a quiet heavyweight toward change.
For more information on Merriam-Webster's additions, click here.