Hours after Barrett referred to 'sexual preference,' Merriam-Webster deemed the phrase 'offensive'

The term allegedly implies "that a person can choose who they are sexually or romantically attracted to."

Updated: October 14, 2020 - 4:14pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Just hours after Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett used the term "sexual preference" during her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, longtime American dictionary company Merriam-Webster officially deemed that phrase "offensive."

On Tuesday, under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein about Supreme Court precedent regarding LGBTQ rights, Barrett told the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee: "I have no agenda, and I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference."

Barrett was later criticized by Sen. Mazie Hirono over the use of that term, which the Hawaii Democratic senator described as "offensive and outdated."

Barrett also received criticism on social media and commentary websites over the phrase. 

Notably, shortly after the hearing, Merriam-Webster on its website updated its definition of "preference" to stipulate that that the term "sexual preference" is, as Hirono put it, "offensive."

"The term preference as used to refer to sexual orientation is widely considered offensive," the site states, "in its implied suggestion that a person can choose who they are sexually or romantically attracted to."

The company said in a statement to the media that it made the update "when we noticed that the entries for preference and sexual preference were being consulted in connection with the SCOTUS hearings."

Such updates take place "several times per year," the company noted, though "from time to time" it releases "one or some of these scheduled changes early when a word or set of words is getting extra attention."