The woke war on truth

The Cambridge Dictionary’s redefinition of the word woman is a gross assault on reality.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Feminism Identity Politics Politics UK

Now even the dictionary is lying to us. The Cambridge Dictionary has updated its definition of the word woman to include men. A woman is now any adult ‘who lives and identifies as female’ even if they had a ‘different sex at birth’. That is, even if they’re blokes. Even if they sport a pair of testicles. Even if they’re one of those human beings we’ve referred to as men for millenia.

According to the literal dictionary, the book that’s meant to explain clearly and accurately what words mean, the word woman can include those people, too. And just like that, with the swipe of a lexicographer’s pen, a word that has existed in one form or another for the entirety of human civilisation, for the express purpose of referring to an adult human female, is hollowed out, rendered meaningless, abolished, essentially.

They’ve done the same for man. You thought a man was an adult human male, a boy who has reached maturity? Think again. Sure, the word man refers to adult human males, the Cambridge Dictionary graciously admits, but it also refers to anyone who ‘lives and identifies as male though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth’. In short, man means man but also woman, when a woman says she’s a man. What next, Cambridge? War means war except when it means peace?

I checked if the Cambridge Dictionary has a definition for ‘post-truth’. It does. That refers to a situation ‘in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts’, it says. Like accepting the bonkers belief that men can be included in the category of woman, because that belief feels nice and virtuous and is likely to win you a hearty pat on the back from the woke? You mean that kind of post-truth?

People will slam the Cambridge Dictionary’s unilateral redefinition of the words man and woman as wokeness gone mad. And it is that. But it’s so much more. This act of linguistic manipulation, this imperious decree that woman can mean man and man can mean woman, also represents an assault on reality itself, on the right of communities to use words as they are meant to be used and to define themselves in the manner they have been doing so since the beginning of recorded time.

These lexicographers, in their keenness to cosy up to the correct-thinking elites, are really reprimanding and re-educating the populace. They’re instructing us that our belief that there are men and women, and that they are biologically different, is outdated and possibly bigoted. We must now morally reboot ourselves, apparently, by acknowledging that people born male can be the literal dictionary definition of a woman in certain situations. There is always an authoritarian impulse behind language manipulation, and it’s the case here, too. This is about altering words in order to alter minds.

In a sense, the Cambridge Dictionary is only codifying what it has been madly fashionable to think and say in polite society for some time. The educated classes have feverishly embraced the post-truth idea that the word woman sometimes refers to men.

‘Trans women are women’, they chant, like a religious mantra, blissfully indifferent to the fact that to the rest of us this sounds as crazy as chanting ‘Men are women’. I mean, that’s literally what it means: that men are women too, when they want to be. In cultural circles there’s been a strange and zealous crusade to collapse the meaning of the word woman in particular and to insist that it refers not only to adult human females, but also to any bloke who wakes up one morning and decides to change from Steven to Susan.

Indeed, it has become heresy to utter the old dictionary definition of a woman. Witness the right-on fury that always greets Kellie-Jay Keen, aka Posie Parker, when she uses that definition – ‘adult human female’ – as a political slogan. One of her billboards quoting the old definition was even taken down on the basis that it was ‘transphobic’. No wonder the Cambridge Dictionary is so keen to update its definition – it’s cravenly desperate to dodge the accusation of bigotry.

‘Woman’ has become one of the most problematic words of our times. Some people avoid it entirely, preferring to use vile, dehumanising terms like ‘people who menstruate’ or ‘cervix-havers’, lest they offend the handfuls of men who do not menstruate and do not have a cervix but who nonetheless think they’re women. Others do use the word woman but in an ostentatiously expanded way, being always careful to include blokes as well. This reached the apogee of idiocy this week when a Scottish court ruled that transwomen – men – should be allowed to take seats on public boards traditionally reserved for women. Men, women, who gives a shit? They’re all the same.

And now the dictionary itself says so. Posie Parker and the other biology heretics of the 21st century will no longer be able to point to the dictionary (the Cambridge Dictionary, anyway) and say: ‘See, a woman is an adult human female.’ Because even dictionaries are falling into line with elite consensus opinion, with orthdox thought. This is a chilling development. The very book that we expect to embody the truth and accuracy of the language we use has become yet another outlet for the reality-twisting propaganda of the elites. It simply isn’t true that someone born male can be a woman. The Cambridge Dictionary is lying. No self-respecting lexicographer would let himself be involved in such a deceitful enterprise.

There’s a Ministry of Truth feel to all of this. As Orwell knew too well, ‘[If] thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought’. Nineteen Eighty-Four, at root, is a dystopic study of how control of language makes it easier to control thought. ‘[The] whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought’, said Syme, a lexicographer at the Ministry of Truth. ‘In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.’ That’s what’s happening now, with sex and gender and women’s rights. Language is being manipulated to manipulate minds. If it is officially the case that the word woman refers to certain men too, then it’s increasingly difficult to express the thoughtcrime of biology, the heresy of saying ‘women are women’. Linguistic manipulation shrinks our ability to say certain things and to defend certain ideas.

‘We shall soon be in a world in which… people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure’, said GK Chesterton. We’re there. People now persecute the heresy of calling a woman an adult human female. Resisting the woke war on language and reality is now the chief task of every person who believes in reason and freedom. The new definition of woman must not stand. Say it loud and say it everywhere: a woman is an adult human female, and nothing else.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

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Topics Feminism Identity Politics Politics UK


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