Segregating sex

heterocentric discourse about intercourse in English dictionaries


  • Stephen Turton Independent scholar



dictionaries, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, embodiment, queer linguistics


Feminist and postcolonial scholars have long contended that dictionaries, far from being objective linguistic records, are ideologically loaded texts that overtly or covertly encode sexist and ethnocentric attitudes (e.g. Rose 1979; Benson 2001). Queer linguists have also begun to explore how dictionaries reproduce heteronormativity and cisnormativity (Nossem 2018; Turton 2020), though much of this scholarship has so far limited itself to the construction of identity. This paper instead contributes to the recent queer turn towards embodiment by exploring representations of sexual acts in online general English dictionaries. It encourages greater engagement between queer lexicography and other strands of dictionary criticism by placing Rubin’s (1984) concept of the ‘charmed circle’ of sex in dialogue with Benson’s (2001) postcolonial model of the centre/periphery in lexicography. The paper argues that heteronormativity, cisnormativity and phallocentrism continue to shape contemporary definitions of sex and sexual intercourse by sidelining or silencing queer erotic acts and bodies.

Author Biography

Stephen Turton, Independent scholar

Stephen Turton completed a doctorate in English at the University of Oxford in 2020 and will begin a Research Fellowship at the University of Cambridge in 2021.


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How to Cite

Turton, S. (2021). Segregating sex: heterocentric discourse about intercourse in English dictionaries. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 5(1), 48–70.