When changes to definition are imposed, that is the very essence of authoritarianism, says Andrew Doyle

One of the key tricks of authoritarians is to redefine language in order to reinforce faith in the ruling ideology

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As I have said many times on this show, one of the key tricks of authoritarians is to redefine language in order to reinforce faith in the ruling ideology.

So it should come as little surprise to see that members of staff at online dictionaries are busy redefining terms – not in accordance with common usage, which of course is the role of the dictionary – but in accordance with how they see the world.

This week the Cambridge dictionary added a secondary definition to the word “Woman”

“An adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.”

What does that even mean? What does it mean to “live and identify as female”? If a woman doesn’t wear make up or cuts her hair short, is she less of a female? If she watches romcoms, has pillow fights with friends and goes prancing in fields of lilac, does she get more woman points? How does this work?

Reinstating old-fashioned stereotypes of male and female in order to define what a man and a woman is gets us precisely nowhere. It certainly isn’t progressive. And yet that’s what activists who believe in gender identity ideology are currently expecting us to do. Because, just as the implementation of Critical Race Theory in our schools has led to heightened racial division, gender identity ideology takes us backwards in the name of progress.

A few months ago Merriam-Webster, America’s oldest dictionary, did something very similar. They added a secondary definition to “female” which read as follows:

“Having a gender identity that is the opposite of male.”

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Again, this is a somewhat useless definition. Saying that female is the “opposite of male” is a bit like defining the sun as “not the moon”.

As with many things in the culture war, the Cambridge dictionary is simply following the lead of the Americans. Let’s have another look at this new definition of woman.

“An adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.”

How can one be “said to have a different sex at birth”? We all have a sex at birth. It’s usually observed and recorded long before birth. Activists claim that it is assigned, as though the midwife just flips a coin, but we all know the truth.

And more to the point, hardly anyone will recognise the Cambridge dictionary's new definition of "woman". Because although language inevitably evolves, and the dictionary is meant to record such natural evolutions, that hasn’t happened in this case. Rather, just like publishing houses, libraries, museums, theatres, and other creative and educational industries, online dictionaries have been ideologically captured. And this means that the staff will continue to tweak definitions, not to reflect common usage, but as a form of engineering – in the hope that by redefining words they can modify the way we see the world.

This is a standard tactic of culture warriors. They pretend that their view of the world represents an established consensus. Well, it doesn’t. And for the sake of our sanity, we should all get hold of physical copies of dictionaries, preferably those published in 2010 – before the activists gained their chokehold on our society. Perhaps in years to come we'll need to have some kind of resource to remind us what words actually mean rather than what activists would like them to mean.

The novelist Philip K Dick said that the basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. And he was right. Language always evolves, but when changes to definitions are imposed, that is the very essence of authoritarianism. We mustn’t let them get away with it.