Kate Woodsome, “Gay Rights Activist Slams AP for Nixing ‘Homophobia’” (Voice of America, Nov. 27, 2012)
“Words shape culture and words reflect culture,” said linguist Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for The Boston Globe newspaper. “The fact that a word like ‘homophobia’ was coined in the 1960s in the first place was a way to reflect certain social trends and phenomena.”
But words are always available for reconsideration and rethought, he said, adding that he’s not so sure the AP made the right decision to drop the word “homophobia.”
“Words ending in ‘phobia’ are commonly used outside of clinical contexts. You can think about the word ‘xenophobia,’ which has been around for more than a century to refer to hatred of foreigners. That’s not a clinical condition in the same way that ‘homophobia’ isn’t a clinical diagnosis,” Zimmer said.
As revered as the AP Stylebook is, every news organization is free to make its own decisions and, even if “homophobia” is wiped from the AP’s texts, Zimmer said the meaning won’t disappear so easily.