Landmines in lexicography

by Sarah Ogilvie

 

When the ALP conference voted to amend the party platform on same-sex marriage at the end of last year, there was a flurry of debate in magazines, newspapers, and online. The platform now states: ‘Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all adult couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life.’ For lexicographers, this event meant that the word marriage appeared in Australian sources with greater frequency than ever – and with a greater variation of meanings. Whatever the word’s official definition in Australian law or in the minds of those opposed to the notion, suddenly there was an abundance of evidence that Australians were using the word marriage to refer to the union of two people regardless of sex, and that eventually this would have implications for the definition of the word in all our dictionaries. In addition to new expressions such as marriage equality, there were also new senses of old words such as marry, husband, wedding, widow, widower, and wife.

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Published in May 2012 no. 341

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