It's believed that Apple is currently amending at least one of its English dictionaries, after a 15-year-old American student discovered that one of the informal definitions of the word gay was given as "foolish, stupid, or unimpressive".

Apple dictionary: gay

According to Pink News, the student's campaign to have the definition changed has borne so-far limited fruit: "On the MacBook Pro, the word is currently unavailable. If the user enters the search term 'gay' they are asked if they were searching for the word 'ay' instead." It's possible that a new definition will emerge shortly.

Before writing this article I checked the dictionary on my iPad Air, and this shows the old third definition, except with the words 'often offensive':

"Gay adjective … 3 informal, often offensive foolish, stupid, or unimpressive: making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule."

It's possible, however, that updating to iOS 7.0.4 will see this change; the iPad in question was still running iOS 7.0.3.

The facts of the case aren't entirely clear at this point, then, but we can safely point out a couple of things.

One is that Apple doesn't make its own dictionaries: this one is provided by the New Oxford American Dictionary, and Apple clearly doesn't have time to vet every entry in every one of the dictionaries it offers. (Of course, that doesn't prevent Apple from acting to remove terms when they are pointed out by users, as it appears to be doing here.)

The second is that, as a general principle, dictionaries are supposed to describe rather than prescribe - it's society's fault that the word gay is used in this undoubtedly hurtful and damaging way, not the dictionary makers'. The dictionary does at least include the label offensive.

Still, we can certainly sympathise with the young child of lesbian parents who found what appeared to be at least an acknowledgement of the word's most aggressive definition.

And Apple has a generally exemplary record when it comes to its treatment of and respect for gay men and women, signing a filing that backed gay marriage, for instance (a cause the company had previously donated $100,000 to supporting) and adding 'gay icons' to iOS 6's range of emoji characters.

If we're talking about distasteful definitions, incidentally, the word 'bitch' is listed in the same dictionary as (aside from the obvious zoological terminology) 'informal, derogatory a spiteful or unpleasant woman' and then as 'black slang a woman'.

Apple dictionary: bitch

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