4 Words the Dictionary Says You Should Stop Using

The way we talk about race, sexual orientation, and mental health all factored in to the changes.

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The way we communicate is constantly changing and so are the very words we use to do so. Sometimes new verbiage is created to catch up with evolving technology, and sometimes we change old language to remove stigma or cultural insensitivities. With a year like 2020 being so full of historic events and societal changes, we've been doing a lot of reexamination. So it's no wonder the indispensable Dictionary.com has released its biggest update ever this year. Not only were 650 new entries added to the site, but 15,000 definitions were also updated—and that includes Dictionary.com dropping some everyday words entirely.

"The unprecedented events of 2020, from the pandemic to the protests, have profoundly changed our lives—and language," the site's managers wrote in a blog post announcing the update. "A great many of these entries we've updated address topics that touch all of us on the most personal levels: race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, health, and wellness."

So which terms have been shelved? These are four words Dictionary.com says you should stop using if you haven't already. And for more ways to freshen up your vocabulary, check out The 50 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language—And How to Use Them.

1
Black with a lowercase b

marchers at black lives matter BLM protest for George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Shutterstock/Olga Enger

The Black Lives Matter protests in response to George Floyd's murder have thoroughly transformed the scope through which we view and discuss race. As such, Dictionary.com has decided to officially capitalize Black in reference to people, dropping the lowercase version from use.

"Capitalizing Black confers the due dignity to the shared identity, culture, and history of Black people," the site's editors explained. "It also aligns with the practice of using initial capital letters for many other ethnic groups and national identities, e.g., Hispanic." And for more changes that've come from the BLM protests, check out 8 Changes That Have Happened Since Black Lives Matter Protests Started.

2
Homosexual

rainbow pride flag in belgium ways to take action during pride month
Shutterstock

As part of the site's efforts to "put people, not practices" first, Dictionary.com also announced it would be dropping homosexual, a word that is commonly used to describe someone's sexual orientation, saying it held a "clinical" or "deviant" connotation rooted in outdated beliefs.

"Informed by GLAAD recommendations and APA guidelines, we have also replaced references to homosexual with gay, gay man, or gay woman as well as references to homosexuality with gay sexual orientation. For example, we now define gayness as 'gay or lesbian sexual orientation or behavior' compared to the outmoded gloss of 'homosexuality.' These changes alone affect over 50 entries." And for more ways you should stop viewing the LGBTQIA+ community, check out 11 Stereotypes People Should Stop Believing About the LGBTQ Community.

3
Addict

study finds calling addiction a disease makes people less likely to seek help.
Shutterstock

As the opioid crisis continues to have a profound effect on the U.S., it also has affected the way we approach and discuss addiction. As a result, Dictionary.com has dropped all references to the word addict in noun form and replaced it with "habitual user of."

"These changes foreground the fact that people who have addictions are human beings, first and foremost," the Dictionary.com team writes. "For instance, our new entry for the second sense of user now reads: 'a person who is addicted to or abuses a controlled substance or alcohol; one who uses illegal or addictive drugs.'" And for more on how words affect people who are addicted to substances, check out New Study Says Calling Addiction a "Disease" Makes People Less Likely to Seek Help.

4
Commit suicide

Mom talking with sad daughter
Shutterstock

The topic of mental health has never seen as much light as it currently does in public discourse. To reflect this, Dictionary.com decided to replace all instances of commit suicide with die by suicide or end one's life, which is the terminology preferred by mental health professionals and suicide prevention specialists.

"The moralistic verb commit is associated with crime (in the justice system) and sin (in religion), deepening the emotional pain surrounding this sensitive but important subject—and thickening the barriers to talking openly about it." And if you're battling depression or other mental health issues, check out 14 Expert-Backed Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Every Day.

Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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