“Asexual” Updated in the OED

(Take that, “but that’s not what the dictionary says” sticklers!)

This March, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which is widely considered the most comprehensive of authorative english language dictionary, released a new update that included major additions and expansions to sexual and gender identity terminology. (This is part of a series of ongoing revisions, with new releases roughly every three months, as part of the process of generating the third edition of the OED).

Part of this update was a major overhaul of the entry for “Asexual“, which has been greatly expanded from the original 1989 definition by the addition of several different “senses”, or possible meanings of the word. Each sense was also given additional dated historical use sample citations from various primary sources. [A/N The entry for “asexuality” and was similarly updated. I have not transcribed it here since it follows similar lines, but I could add it in a separate post if there is interest.]

The actual OED definitions are behind a paywall, but if you have a library card there is a good chance your library already subscribes, so you can login with just your library card number. If not, you can look below the read more to view the relevant excerpts with links to full PDF snapshots.

Overall, as an ace and an amateur linguistics enthusiast, I have to say I’m pretty well satisfied by this update – at least as far as “asexual” and “asexuality” goes. Now we just need to coax them into adding ace, aromantic, and all the other community lingo…

The 1989 Definition [roughly transcribed]:

As an Adjective – [Biology]
a. Not sexual, without sex. In Bot. formerly applied to cryptogams; cf. agamic.
b. In general contexts: without sexuality.

The 2018 Definition [roughly transcribed]:

A. As an Adjective:

1. [Biology] Lacking sexual organs or function; (formerly) †designating plants lacking true flowers and seeds (cryptogams) (obs.). Also of reproduction: occurring without the fusion of male and female gametes, e.g. by fission, budding, or parthenogenesis; produced by such a process. Cf. AGAMIC adj.

a. Without sexual feelings or desires; not sexually attracted to anyone.
b. Not involving sexual intercourse or other sexual activity; celibate, platonic. Also: lacking in sexual or erotic character or motivation; non-sexual.

3. Neither clearly masculine nor feminine in appearance, style, etc.; androgynous. Sometimes coloured by sense A.2.


B. As a Noun:

1. [Biology] An organism which does not reproduce sexually; an asexual, parthenogenetic, or vegetative form.

2. An asexual person; one who has no sexual feelings or desires, or who is not sexually attracted to anyone.


5 thoughts on ““Asexual” Updated in the OED

  1. Very cool. At Creating Change’s Asexuality, Gray-Asexuality, and Aromanticism caucus this year we presented the update to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Now we have this!

  2. Neat! I see that the examples for the last definition come from 1907, 1974, 1996, and 2015. So they see it as a definition with a long history.

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