The Mirror

Merriam-Webster Editor Apologizes For Bigotry Association to Conservatism (Sort Of)

In July, we learned that a Google search of the word “bigotry” turned up a definition that equated the word to “right-wing.” The sample sentence from the Oxford Dictionary set off a small firestorm of anger by conservatives, who don’t consider themselves bigoted and don’t think it should be part of any dictionary definition of the word.

Well, it seems Merriam-Webster also thinks conservatives are bigots.

A review of Webster’s synonyms and antonyms section of the word reveals the following:

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In other words, liberals and progressives are the opposite of bigoted, but anyone related to “conservatism” is.

A source writes in, ”I would imagine millions of impressionable young minds go to this site to find definitions of words for school. This is supposed to be factual reference. This is extremely dangerous and powerful. I wonder what other words they have redefined.”

Rose Martino, associate editor of the unabridged Merriam-Webster.com, apologized for the “unfortunate juxtaposition,” and explained to our source that the real problem is two editors who don’t agree on the issue of bigotry as they claim it relates to conservatives versus liberals.

The Mirror obtained the email exchange.

Subject: Bigotry Definition

Question: Can you explain to me why you would have conservatism as a related word to bigotry? I am a conservative and I haven’t a bigoted bone in my body, thought in my head or in my heart. This is deeply, deeply offensive to me. I anxiously await your answer

ROSE MARTINO: “I apologize for the unfortunate juxtaposition; the basic line of reasoning seems to have been that since ‘liberalism’ is an antonym to ‘conservatism,’ perceived antonyms of ‘liberalism’ could be considered to be related words for ‘conservatism.’ The other word on that particular related words sub-list is ‘illiberalism,’ which makes the connection a bit clearer… for people who understand that the groups set off by semicolons are considered to be sets of words related to *each other*, which is not immediately obvious to many thesaurus users, and we apologize for that as well.

The crux of the issue appears to be that those two entries were handled by different editors, one of whom thought ‘bigotry’ and ‘illiberalism’ were nearly synonymous (while the other did not, explaining why ‘bigotry’ does not appear at the actual ‘liberal’ entry), and so added both at ‘conservatism.’ This lack of perfect reciprocity crops up from time to time with a thesaurus, and in this particular instance it was especially regrettable. I’ll definitely recommend that the entry be reviewed thoroughly for the next new edition or revision of the thesaurus, and in the meantime I hope you’ll forgive us for the unintended but very real offensiveness of the apparent connection.

Thank you for taking the time to write to us, and please do not hesitate to contact us with a question in the future.”