The Associated Press Stylebook’s changes for 2013 include an updated entry for “-phobia,” which now explicitly says “not [to] use in political or social contexts.”
Because of the association with violent activities, the AP is trying to discourage the use of terms like “homophobia,” “Islamophobia,” and “ethnic cleansing.”
“When you break down ‘ethnic cleansing,’ it’s a cover for terrible violent activities. It’s a term we certainly don’t want to propagate,” AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told POLITICO. “Homophobia especially — it’s just off the mark. It’s ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don’t have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.”
However, not everyone agrees with the changes.
Dr. George Weinberg, who coined the term “homophobia” in 1972, told Think Progress why he disagrees with the update:
It made all the difference to City Councils and other people I spoke to. It encapsulates a whole point of view and of feeling. It was a hard-won word, as you can imagine. It even brought me some death threats. Is homophobia always based on fear? I thought so and still think so. Maybe envy in some cases. But that’s a psychological question. Is every snarling dog afraid? Probably yes. But here it shouldn’t matter. We have no other word for what we’re talking about, and this one is well established. We use “freelance” for writers who don’t throw lances anymore and who want to get paid for their work. Fowler even allows us to mix what he called dead metaphors. It seems curious that this word is getting such scrutiny while words like triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13) hangs around.
The update will be reflected in next year’s print edition.