One of Japan’s leading dictionaries has made a significant (and arguably long overdue) step towards acknowledging and normalizing homosexuality by revising the entries for words relating to love and sex. They have removed restrictive references to these feelings existing only between a man and a woman, opening up the definition of love to everyone — gay, straight, or otherwise.

The latest edition of the Sanseido Kokugo Jiten, or National Language Dictionary, has revised its definitions of words relating to love and sex, removing heteronormative references to it being between men and women. In this day and age most people accept, even if they don’t agree with it, that love and sex are not strictly limited only to people of opposite sexes. Love and desire comes in many forms, not all of them heterosexual or even homosexual. Society is becoming more aware that there are people who choose alternative labels for their gender and sexuality such as transgender, gender queer, or polyamorous, or shun labels altogether, which is why removing these limiting qualifiers seems such a logical development that it’s surprising it’s taken this long.

Hiroaki Ima, of the editing committee, explained this in a tweet.

“In the 7th edition of the ‘Sanseido National Language Dictionary’ we have revised the descriptions for entries relating to love and sex that included unnecessary references to ‘heterosexuality’. ‘Love’, ‘(romantic) chemistry’, ‘carnal desire’…and so on, are not limited to between men and women. For example, we have changed ‘love’ and ‘carnal desire’ in the following way.”

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Below is a translation to show the changes that have been made to the entries for two particular words. The 6th edition was published in 2008, and the 7th edition in 2014.

Love (koi – used exclusively for romantic love)

6th edition
Unquenchable feelings of affection between a man and woman, of wanting to see them, and always wanting to be with them.

7th edition
To have unquenchable feelings of affection for a person, of wanting to see them, and always wanting to be with them.

Carnal desire (shikijou)

6th edition
Feelings of sexual desire between a man and a woman.

7th edition
Feelings of sexual desire.

Due to the organic and changing nature of language, dictionaries periodically have to be revised with new words or updated meanings. Another example is the word ‘yabai‘ which used to be exclusively used in a negative context, but which is now used positively too, especially among young people. For example, a huge earthquake is yabai, but so is bumping into your all time favourite K-pop star and getting his autograph. Dictionaries are also supposed to offer an explanation of words that is as non-biased as possible, so continuing to ignore a definition would be akin to the publisher seeming to push a particular agenda.

Society influences language and vice versa in complex ways, and the updates in this dictionary can be seen as a step forward for gay rights in Japan. Hopefully other dictionaries will also follow suit in removing outdated references such as the ones shown here.

Source: Jin115, Twitter
Head Image: Japanese Book Blog