“Cisgender” is one of 500 new entries that have recently been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. It is defined as, “designating someone whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him or her at birth”.
The inclusion of the word has been seen by some as reflecting an increased public awareness of the issues of gender, and a growing understanding of the trans community.
Oxford undergraduate George Haggett, a trans man, told Cherwell that the inclusion of this word “represents a step away from harmful cisnormative ideals. The increasingly widespread use of the word “cisgender” is an acknowledgement that Trans people are not exceptions to the norm, but navigating gender in an equally legitimate way.”
Professor Charlotte Brewer, senior tutor and fellow in English at Hertford College and expert in the Oxford English Dictionary, commented that “words have to be clearly well established in the language, not fly-by-nights” to be included in the OED.
“When they think a word has got over the bar and is becoming established in the language, they will release an entry which shows the earliest usage they can find, with representative examples evidencing how usage has subsequently changed and developed.”
When asked how the inclusion of words such as “cisgender” and “twerk” reflects society, Brewer responded, “It is certainly the case that, reflecting society more widely, the OED is far more hospitable to a wide range of language than it was when the first instalment was published in 1884. Not surprising if you think of the social changes and changes in legislation since then: male homosexuality was illegal up to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, and not till the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial of 1960 could publishers be sure that they could publish words like fuck and cunt without fear of prosecution.
“So the 1st edition of OED definitely had trouble with words relating to sex and the body – but since 2010 the revision has been as careful as it can to do away with euphemism or implicit homophobia in its definitions for such terms, and to be as accurate and descriptive as possible.”
The Oxford English Dictionary is widely considered to be the most comprehensive historical dictionary of the English language, and sets out to include as many words as possible in use from 1150 through to today.
The project currently exists online, and has not been printed in its full form since 1989, where it came to twenty volumes. The dictionary does not attempt to chart all recent changes to the English language; a word has to have been in widespread use for approximately five to ten years prior to its inclusion- the dictionary traces the first use of the word “twerk” to 1993 and “cisgender” to 1999.
There are approximately 70 full time lexicographers constantly on the lookout for the new words and the evolving definition of current words.
The OUSU LGBTQ representative was unavailable for comment.