Teen Asks Apple To Remove Offensive Definition Of the Word ‘Gay’ From Dictionary App

The company said they were just as surprised as she was that the derogatory wording was there.

Apple store image via pio3 / Shutterstock.com

Apple store image via pio3 / Shutterstock.com

A Massachusetts teen is trying to get Apple to change the definition of the word “gay” that appears in the dictionary app, calling it derogatory and offensive.

With Apple being widely known as a pro-LGBT company, Sudbury High School sophomore Becca Gorman was “stunned” to find language in the definition—including a reference to being “foolish” and “stupid”—when she went to look it up on her MacBook Pro laptop.

The “informal” definition included an example of the word used in a sentence that said, “Making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule.”

After discovering it, while doing a research paper for school about the “lack of rights for gays and lesbians,” Gorman quickly took a screenshot of the app’s third explanation for the word:


Apple products come with what the company calls “a versatile dictionary application” to allow people to search a word’s origin. It pulls definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary, which on its own website includes the same explanation.

Boston reached out to Apple, but did not immediately receive a reply.

Gorman, whose mothers are lesbians, decided to take her disapproval of the terminology one step further and wrote a strongly worded letter to the computer company, addressing it directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“I assume that you are a pro-gay company, and would never intend for anyone of your products to be as offensive as this definition was. Even with your addition of the word informal, this definition normalizes the terrible derogatory twist that many people put on the word ‘gay’,” she wrote. “The use of ‘gay’ as a negative adjective is not okay and needs to stop; insulting or making people feel uncomfortable everyday. All other derogatory terms within the dictionary have it listed as an offensive term or unacceptable.”

After a search of other terms deemed offensive in nature, Gorman said she found most of them were marked with the word “derogatory” to signify that the language was unacceptable.

In her letter, Gorman asked that the company make a formal apology to the gay community as a whole, as well as a “significant change” to the context of the word in the app. According to the MetroWest Daily News, after Gorman—with the support of her mothers—sent the letter to Cook, the company was quick to call her back. The company admitted they, too, were surprised the definition was there.

However, as of Tuesday, no changes had been made to the Dictionary’s language. Other dictionaries, such as dictionary.com, also have derogative definitions associated with the term, however, they are prefaced as “slang” that is considered “disparaging and offensive.”

While Gorman was understandably upset about the wording, she noted in her letter several times that she “loves” Apple products, and went as far as thanking the company for helping continue her education.

  • Scott Kennedy

    ‘Apple products come with what the company calls “a versatile dictionary application” to allow people to search a word’s origin, but the company does not explain where they source their information.’

    My assumption is that this is related to the Dictionary app for OSX? Upon opening the app, “Type a word to look up in…New Oxford American Dictionary.”

    Dictionaries are pretty standard so I think it’s fairly safe to assume the source is being pulled from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/ which seems to have updated the definition to include “often offensive” in the definition, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/gay?q=gay which is also reflected in the dictionary app.

    • Steve Annear

      Ya @disqus_yWwK5cm3WD:disqus looks like it is pulled from New Oxford American Dictionary. Same font and everything.

  • Matthew Newberg

    I don’t know what it worst: Boston Mag editor not knowing the traditional definition of “gay”, or an Apple user not knowing Tim Cook is gay, or a gay (or daughter of) person not knowing Tim Cook the CEO of Apple is gay.

    • http://www.youthallies.com/ MK

      I’m not sure the things you mention are necessarily relevant. The author *could* have mentioned that Cook is gay, for example, but the story is complete & legit & interesting regardless. Anyway, “gay” isn’t Apple’s only problematic LGBT-related definition: youthallies.com/apple-definition-of-gay-and-becca-gorman/ (post is called “It’s Not Just ‘Gay’: Questionable Definitions in Apple’s Dictionaries”) – MK (YouthAllies.com)

      • greendrawer

        Apple doesn’t “have” a dictionary. It has a search field that you can type a word into, and your word is then searched in the New Oxford American Dictionary.
        It’s no different than if you typed the word into the google search field and hit return.

        • http://www.youthallies.com/ MK

          Sorry – Took me a long time to see this response. I largely address this point in my post (http://www.youthallies.com/apple-definition-of-gay-and-becca-gorman/). Two points to emphasize: (1) Apple does pick and choose which dictionaries (or set of dictionaries) to use, and it publishes those dictionaries’ definitions far and wide, so it can’t totally disclaim responsibility (and it’s not at all like a search engine like Google); and (2) Some of Apple’s dictionaries appropriate note that the derogatory use of “gay” is offensive, which proves that Apple is perfectly capable of doing what the young woman in CT requested. MK

      • disqus_ehpN1TLzZC

        Its not at all interesting. That IS the meaning of the word. The complainant’s ignorance not withstanding.

  • commenty_mcgee

    They should take out all the mean words that make people feel bad! And not out of the dictionary, they should take them out of LIFE.

  • Scott Imyourrealdad Nagelberg

    Oh my lord! If the girl only knew how the word was hijacked by the glbt community…