The word “redskin” is getting a tweaked designation on Dictionary.com when it comes out with its next edition: It’s officially being labeled as “disparaging and offensive” — in all cases, not just some.
“In our next update, we’re removing ‘often’ so the label just reads ‘Slang: Disparaging and Offensive,’” Jane Solomon, senior content editor and lexicographer at Dictionary.com, told MTV News.
There has been a lot of buzz about the word of late, as the Washington Redskins’ name was put in peril when the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the team name because it’s “disparaging to Native Americans.”
A high school in Pennsylvania also thrust the term into the public eye when student editors lobbied to censor the word, which is also their mascot, and the school board responded by passing a policy requiring them to print it in editorials and letters to the editor. They are currently considering a lawsuit.
“We have a Native American parent in our district who filed a complaint [against the term], so one of the editors started to listen to it — well, we all started to listen to what she was saying and then one of the editors suggested we should take a stand ourselves,” the paper’s student editor, Gillian McGoldrick, told MTV News.
Although the editors got their share of support, McGoldrick was shocked by some students’ reaction to the “The Playwickian”‘s censorship — the paper spelled the word “R——-.”
“In the beginning of the school year students would take newspapers and rip them up and they said they were going to take it home and light it on fire,” she said. “I would walk into a homeroom — we distribute newspapers in different homerooms — and the one homeroom I went into the kids crossed their arms and said, ‘I’m not touching that, you can’t make me touch that.’ Just because we removed the word that is deemed as a racial slur.”
According to Solomon, the word “redskin” first appeared in the English language around 200 years ago. “In the 1760s, French colonists translated a Native American self-referential term into the French ‘peau rouge,’ which soon after was translated into the English term ‘redskin,’” she said. “In its early years, ‘redskin’ was used by Native American and white people alike, however its meaning has been loaded with the cultural context of the time. Historical uses of ‘redskin’ have been imbued with contempt and condescension, a fact that comes into play when considering whether or not ‘redskin’ is considered a slur.”
“So, is ‘redskin’ considered a slur?” Solomon added. “Definitely. Dictionary.com is based on the Random House Dictionary, which was the first dictionary to include an offensive label on ‘redskin’ when originally published in 1966. The level of offense has risen over the last half century along with overall cultural sensitivity.”
Hence the word’s new designation on the dictionary website.
It remains to be seen what impact this designation will have in cases such as that of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and the crusading student journalists.