After the UC Santa Barbara shootings, Merriam-Webster editors noted that searches for the word “misogyny” skyrocketed.
Though the literal meaning of the word is hatred of women (miso = hate; gyny = women), linguist Ben Zimmer noted that the word has taken on a larger meaning in the commentary in the wake of shooter Elliot Rodger’s vitriolic views of women.
“Those discussions more often, like many discussions about misogyny, were not necessarily about the pathological hatred that someone like Elliot Rodger would have, but this more societal prejudice against women and how these things get entrenched in our culture without even thinking about it,” Zimmer told KUOW’s David Hyde on The Record.
Zimmer said misogyny is becoming more roughly equivalent to sexism, which is causing a headache for dictionary publishers. According to Zimmer, the Oxford English Dictionary expanded the definition of the word in 2002 to include “hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women.”
Though a case could be made that the original definition of the word is being diluted, Zimmer wasn’t so bleak about the evolution of the word.
“It’s extending the semantic range of the word,” Zimmer said. “You’re generalizing it so that it talks about what’s happening in society in a more general way rather than simply limiting it to ‘hatred.’”
Since it’s too late to rein in the evolving meaning of the word, Zimmer suggested that there may be a need for a new word to replace the original intent of ‘misogyny,’ like gynophobia.