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Is homophobia wrong?

A post yesterday on Anglican subjects, “A woman under those robes,” prompted a tart response from Patricia the Terse that, in passing, complained that I had misused the word homophobic.

This puzzled some readers, who wondered what the nature of her objection was. Another commenter suggested that people who dislike the term object to the phobia component because they do not want to be accused of being fearful of gay people.

I hesitate to put words in the Terse One’s mouth, because there is already an adequate stock there, but I suspect that her objection is linguistic. Anyone who thinks that words adopted from another language must remain true to their etymological roots — like those who insist that decimate must always mean reduction by a tenth — might well complain that homophobia from its root words means fear of human beings, of Homo sapiens.

This form of purism is misguided, because words over time develop meanings far removed from their etymology. (See “A nice mess.”) This happens, and resistance is futile. Martin Estinel of the Queen’s English Society, who still objects to gay for homosexual, can fulminate all he wants, but he would do better to recollect the story of Canute and the tide. Homophobia is a well-established word meaning an irrational dislike of gay people.

Whether you think homosexuality is a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing, a natural phenomenon or an unnatural one — there is no uniformity on the subject in science, religion, or law — is a question of personal belief beyond the scope of this blog. But as far as language is concerned, people use homophobia, and what they mean by it is widely understood. Anyone who dislikes the word is not obliged to use it.



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