Dear Apple, your dictionary is crap

21 Nov

This morning in my Twitter feed was a link to an article about a girl who “looked up “gay” in Apple’s dictionary while doing some work on a school project about gay history and found a shockingly offensive definition (see above, definition No. 3).”

Now, I’m always a curious sort, so I pulled out my iPhone and asked Siri to “Define Retard” – I even said it the “French” way (which, if you don’t know, when people defend the use of the word “retard”, they say “Well the French meaning is this!”…yeah…you were speaking French…riiiiiiight…)

Anyway, I asked, it looked up, then it told me what the definition was – and even Siri used the more French pronunciation.

However, I got this –


Yeah. That first definition is NOT the “French Version”.

Now, I’m not usually one to go straight to tar and feathers.  So I opened up Microsoft Word, downloaded the Bing dictionary (as opposed to the Merriam-Webster or such, I wanted to see how Microsoft defined it.)

I entered the word “retard” and got this –


They went all French with the first definition, but the second two are more interesting, as it is defined as “offensive” and “insulting” – words Siri missed out on.

Just to cover the full Holy Trinity of Computerland, I went to Google –


Google defined it as “offensive” and as a “general term of abuse” when used as a noun.

So, to sum up…

Siri defined it as a non-offensive noun first.

Bing and Google defined it as a verb first, and a noun used as an offensive insult second.

Of course, this does explain why there’s this herd of people running around going “But it’s okay to use the word retard!”  They probably looked it up on their iPhone.

You  know what’s really sad?

Thousands of special needs children use an iPad.  Special needs families are huge consumers of Apple products via the iPad, iPods that are used as little iPads, iTunes and the App store.  We have been looking to upgrade Maura’s iPad (you know, since the new iOS is going to make her 1st generation iPad obsolete…sigh…).

My people?  We’re your biggest customers.

And yet you define “retard” as a person first.  Not as an insult, or offensive slang like your competitors.  Do you know that thousands of kids who use your products have “retard” flung at them viciously?  And that you are now part of the problem because your definition makes it out to be an acceptable word?

You need to catch up Apple.  Pull your dictionary out of junior high – a “retard” is not a person of subnormal intelligence.

*ETAPeople are saying it’s just Siri, she’s not a “real dictionary” – however, when I threw a couple other slang terms at her, I got “an offensive term” and “an extremely offensive word” – also, I’ve been informed that Siri sends stuff like this to Wolfram Alpha – I went to the site, and got this – a commenter also mentioned if you go into Notes, the definition comes up comparable to the other two, so at least they got it right in one area. Thanks for the heads up!

If you want to write to Wolfram Alpha and let them know what you think about their definitions, go to  – if you want to give feedback to Apple, try this contact page

And now, since I’m getting ALL the attention, and people going “It’s just a word” at me, I must send you to Down Wit Dat, who explains why It’s Never “Just a…”  so amazingly well.  Please, read this, and understand where we on this side of the fence are coming from…


59 Responses to “Dear Apple, your dictionary is crap”

  1. alysinunderland November 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    I almost can’t believe this! Siri didn’t even say anything about developmental delay and flung another insult in ‘subnormal’!

  2. Amanda November 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    It was a revelation to me to find out that “retard” was a noun; I always thought it was a verb. But seriously, have you considered a petition on I’d sign it in a heartbeat.

  3. Beth November 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    I have mixed feelings about this. Most dictionaries put “common usages” in. This is why the word “literally” is now defined as “figuratively.” Because enough people have used the word incorrectly. Calling someone a “retard” is not OK. However, the stigma is on the way we view differently abled people in this country. We have gone from term to term and as each one becomes tainted by stigma, a new word replaces it until it too has the stigma. Until recently, in Special Education, the handicapping condition was “mentally retarded.” Then people just started to say “MR” because that seemed more palatable. I won’t even go into the awful words that preceded “mentally retarded.” Its now “intellectually disabled.” How long before that word is associated with ugly hurtful things? I think we’ll just keep switching words out, until society begins valuing all human beings and stops stigmatizing differences as “subnormal.” I have never commented before, but I work in Special Education and I feel sometimes that education (and society as a whole) puts so much importance in one area alone…academic achievement/IQ. Kids who don’t succeed on standardized tests still bring so much to our world. Great artists, empathetic friends, good team leaders, etc. are not recognized due to an overemphasis in one area. There is no “normal,” there is “standardized.” People cannot be standardized. And the more we can look for commonalities while celebrating uniqueness, the less concern we will have with the words, because the people behind them will be viewed properly.

    • Charla November 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      I loved it when I saw you used, “differently abled” because I use that, too. I have 19-year old twin girls that are differently abled because they “have an autism disorder called PDD-NOS…..look it up” 🙂

    • Ben November 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

      Well said! I love the R word campaign, but demanding that dictionaries censor themselves is too far. Lets just work until it drops from common usage, and therefore, the dictionary!

  4. Lila November 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    “But it’s okay to use the word retard!”
    Yes, it is – as a VERB!

  5. Corrie Moore November 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    I asked my phone 3 times to define it… it refused. Good Windows phone.

  6. Patrick November 21, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    I agree the word should simply be removed from the English language. However, your beef shouldn’t be with Apple or Siri, but rather with whatever site the information is pulled. The algorithm used by Apple’s Siri to determine what is pulled from the vast spaces of the internet is flawed but cannot be blamed for information found on the internet. If you’d like to see what Apple’s dictionary actually says about the word, enter the word retard into the notes app, select the word and select define you will see a very different set of definitions for the word. THAT is Apple’s dictionary.

    Check your sources before believing everything you read.

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

      I tried looking up other words that are considered derogatory slang and it gave me “An extremely offensive word…” or “Offensive term…”

      So if Siri is a reflection of how we use it – then shame on us.

  7. acorporatewife November 21, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Thank you for this. I just wrote Apple, Inc., via facebook, citing your post: Hi. “My family adores Apple products. We currently own an iMac, two iPads, two iPhones, an iPod, and two iPod shuffles. That’s just my nuclear family. My sister and her family have owned iMacs for years. My brother and his family have used Mac Books… and currently use an iPad. See, they have a daughter with Down Syndrome, and that iPad has helped her tremendously. (She is now in kindergarten.) But I just read something, and if it’s true, and I’m heartbroken. And if it’s true, and not fixed, Apple will no longer be adored. Please fix this. I did not write the attached post. But I agree with every word. Please fix the problem, immediately. It must be incredibly easy to fix. Thank you.”

    • acorporatewife November 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      Siri cites “Wolfram Alpha” when offering results for “Define retard.” I wrote them too.

      Wolfram Alpha
      Corporate Headquarters
      100 Trade Center Drive
      Champaign, IL 61820, USA
      217-398-0700 | 1-800-WOLFRAM

  8. kohyuta November 21, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    To be fair, I don’t believe Apple maintains their own dictionary. If I’m not mistaken, Siri passes off definition queries to Wolfram Alpha, so they’re the ones to go after. Now, that doesn’t make Apple totally innocent, and I wonder what Apple would do once they’re made aware of this situation.

  9. Chris November 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Apple gets their dictionary content from Wolfram|Alpha. While Apple should definitely be applying pressure to Wolfram to get this changed, people should also be writing letters to Wolfram to fix this problem at the source.

    Just to be clear, I agree with this article. This is not okay.

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

      Yep, just emailed the fair company myself 🙂

  10. Gina November 21, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    I just did what Patrick suggested by typing the word into the notes app and selecting “define”. When done that way, the definition comes up as verb first, and labeled as an offensive verb second, noting that is “often used as a general term of abuse.”

    But still. Somewhere out there Siri is pulling the definition mentioned in your article, and that’s not ok!

    Great post.

  11. Eric Martindale November 21, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    I am the father of a child with autism. Like everyone else, I certainly agree that the word should never be used in an insulting or derogatory fashion. There is a historic perspective on the evolution of the word “retarded” which should be pointed out. Originally the phrase “mentally retarded” was a standard medical term, exactly as described by Siri. In fact, the word “autism” didn’t exist at all. This was also before the word started being used in an ugly way. 80% of autistic children fit this original medical definition of “retarded”, and with very few exceptions, the rest of them are Asperger’s cases of autism. I want more than anything in the world for my son to have standard or normal intelligence. He does not. He has a good vocabulary, but when you ask him a question, he doesn’t always respond. Instead he repeats the last word he heard. This is called echolalia. He’s 15 years old. The reality has set in that someone does not have to be smart to be loved. He does not have to be smart to be respected, and to be cared for. I love him anyway, but I do recognize that his intelligence is substandard and he fits the classic definition. And I hope and pray for every possible improvement in his condition and his intelligence.

    • Tyler March 3, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

      Thank you for writing this response.
      I’m glad to see that you as a parent of a special needs child recognize the word “retard” for what it is.
      All these people who are trying to change the accepted definitions of words because society has been using them in a hurtful manner are degrading the English language into slang without regard for the actual history of these words or grammatical rules and it’s making society unable to handle even the smallest amount of realism for fear of hurting other’s feelings and it has thrown society into a fantasy world where the roots of our society’s accepted definitions no longer matter in lieu of feel good nonsense and cultural reeducation.

      • Cindy March 3, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

        Tyler – you missed a distinction. Retarded (used as an adjective) is one thing; retard or retarded (used as a noun) is unacceptable. I, too, am the parent of a young man who HAS mental retardation (he ISN’T retarded; he HAS retardation).

  12. kohyuta November 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    Ok, Siri does use Wolfram Alpha, so we need to let them know. The dictionary that Apple does maintain, which is installed on all Macs by default, says this…

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      Thanks for that!

      All said – Apple allowed this, and should be made aware. This is their brand, their “voice”.

  13. Marc November 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Why would the order in which the definitions are listed matter? All dictionaries put their definitions in order arbitrarily or by their own made up ways (chronologically, by usage, etc.) I very highly doubt that anyone was trying to be offensive.

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

      Usually – and I know someone will correct me if I’m wrong, lol – the first definition is the most common usage of the word. So the idea that it’s to describe someone of “subnormal intelligence” is a bit depressing. Also, if you notice, the other two pointed out that it was used as an offensive term, where as Siri/Wolfram Alpha do not state it at all. But most humans don’t go around going “Oh yes, that special ed class is full of retard kids.” Because it would be deemed as offensive. They’re more likely to say “That special ed class is full of kids with varying abilities.” or just “Kids who need more help.”

      Now, when most people try to defend their use of the word “retard”, they actually state they’re using it as a verb, the French version of “to slow down”. Because even they know that retard as a noun is derogatory slang.

      Does that make sense?

  14. CC November 21, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    while I agree it is inappropriate and wrong to call a mentally disabled person “retarded” or a “retard” the definitions Siri listed are not wrong, they are the dictionary definitions of what the word means. Defining the word as an “offensive word” would be slang definition based on today’s society and it’s take on the word. When I look something up in the dictionary I want the real definition not some urban dictionary version. I don’t see how this reflects poorly on Apple at all. The definition of retarded has ALWAYS been someone of sub-par intelligence (I believe medically it is considered an IQ below 80), somewhere along the lines the word became an insult and I don’t defend it’s usage as an insult towards people with delays or disabilities, but how is Apple wrong in simply providing the definition of the word?

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

      I’m not writing about the definition of “retarded” but of “retard”. Which is always used as either an offensive slang term…or the French way of saying “to slow”

  15. Jane November 21, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    I agree with you. Just so you know, and because you’re talking about it, it is no long acceptable to say, “Thousands of special needs children use an iPad. Special needs families are…” It’s called People First Language. You put the person before the disability (because let’s be honest, a person IS more important than their disability). So instead say, thousands of children with special needs and families with children who have special needs. And just so you know I’m not making this up, here is a link to one of the MANY sites that came up when I Googled it.
    Thank you! 🙂

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

      Honestly, I do understand people first language and how it works. But I type fast, and I type how I talk, and don’t always get it right. That shouldn’t negate the point I’m trying to make. Also, for the record, many people with different things don’t care about people first language – there are many autistic adults who refer to themselves as “an autistic adult” – it’s like how a person with diabetes will state “I’m a diabetic” or a person with epilepsy says “I’m an epileptic”. They don’t say “I am a person with complex partial seizures” or “I am a person with Type II diabetes.”

      But I consider us a special needs family. Not a family with a child with special needs. Yes, that one child has special needs, but we’re all affected by it.

      Okay, I’m not even sure that last bit made sense, lol!

      • Jane November 21, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

        It absolutely did not negate anything you said at all! I hope my comment didn’t come across that way, if so, it was not intended 🙂

  16. Some dude November 21, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    I find this article rather biased and opinionated.

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      Well DUH! LOL!

      But thank you. I love it when Captain Obvious stops by – he’s my favorite Superhero 🙂

  17. Webgirl November 21, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    I think it’s just siri that’s stupid because the dictionary app that comes with the macbooks says
    verb |riˈtärd| [ with obj. ]
    delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment: his progress was retarded by his limp.
    noun |ˈrēˌtärd| offensive
    a mentally handicapped person (often used as a general term of abuse).
    retardation |ˌrēˌtärˈdāSHən, ri-|noun.
    retardmentnoun( rare)
    ORIGIN late 15th cent.: from French retarder, from Latin retardare, from re- ‘back’ + tardus ‘slow.’

  18. A concerned supporter November 21, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    I am in full support of what you stand for, represent, and your postings. However, flippant use of the term “Holy Trinity” is offensive. A reference like this that may be offense to a large population of people may detract from your message to stop using a specific offensive term. I just wanted to point it out and make sure you were aware. Thanks.

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

      You may not know this, but I am actually pretty Catholic. I was brought up in a large Irish/Italian Catholic family, and married into a very Catholic family, and we’re raising our kids Catholic. For me, being Catholic is both a faith thing and a cultural thing. My grandfather was a very faithful Catholic whose favorite phrase was “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Which is actually a very Irish thing to do…except he was Italian – he was raised in an Irish neighborhood though!

      Anyway, my point is that yes, it was a bit flippant. I will own that. But that’s just who I am. I make references like that not to offend, but because I’ve grown up in a very Catholic culture and it seeps into my phraseology. I’ve actually had to stop myself from starting a “confession” post with “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” lol!

      • Rachel November 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

        Funny that it’s ok to be flippant about the Holy Trinity because that was how you were raised. The fact that many people may find it offensive just needs to be excused. Heaven forbid a dictionary definition which is in fact correct not be in the order you require because the word is now used as derogatory slang. Think about it

      • phoebz4 November 22, 2013 at 10:50 am #

        I’m not going to argue over religious stuff – how you choose to walk in your faith is probably different than mine.

  19. Cindy Jenkins November 21, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    While I commend you on pointing out offensive definitions of the word retard, I’d like to point out the fact that your use of “special needs children” is also offensive. I believe you are referring to children with special needs. Let’s define them as children not special needs. Please learn and use person first language.

    • phoebz4 November 21, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

      I replied to this idea in another response, please check it out!

    • phoebz4 November 22, 2013 at 10:54 am #

      Actually, the whole “People First” language thing is up for debate in the Community of Special Needs People (did I do it right? I always call it the special needs community). Many autistic adults describe themselves as just that – autistic adults. It’s like a person calling themselves a diabetic or an epileptic.

  20. acorporatewife November 21, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    FWIW, I just heard back from Wolfram Alpha: “Thank you for your feedback regarding Wolfram|Alpha. Your message has been passed along to the relevant developers for review. Please let us know if you have any other questions. Thank you for helping us improve Wolfram|Alpha. Best wishes, Elif The Wolfram|Alpha Team

    • phoebz4 November 22, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      I got the same reply…

  21. Tora Frank (@torafrank) November 21, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    …i searched for “retard” on WolframAlpha’s website and got the same definition. Ugh. Then i noticed that they had listed “Mongoloid” as a synonym….oh my. Besides the same issues with it not being listed as an offensive term…one of the definitions is “An individual *SUFFERING FROM* Down syndrome.” Niiiiiice:*Word.mongoloid-

  22. Bill November 21, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    Mmm, I was always of the opinion that retarded meant “slow” before it was ever a term used to describe peoples with developmental disorders, and so to get so up in arms about people using and defining it as an insult is kind of silly. This is the one word I argue was an insult before it was a medical term so I personally do not care about it’s use as such in the slightest. Now, of course, there has been created a social stigma to its use that is undeniable, and so I do not use the word retarded as an insult very often. But there’s something to be said for the way words like these tend to change with time; the words ‘idiot’ and ‘moron’ were also old medical terms for developmentally disabled people, and in fact were created as such (unlike the term retarded, which, again, meant “slow” first), and there is NO social stigma attached to them simply because as time goes on, people become used to stuff like this and it becomes inoffensive with time; words like hooligan, bugger, or gyp are all rooted in very meaningful bigotry and hatred, but over time they became MORE innocuous with widespread use until they were just meaningless words that are more mildly offensive than viciously hurtful or derogatory. The words retard and retarded (at least, the insulting variations) are no more derisive than those words mentioned were when they were being used in a similar fashion, and so forgive me, but I think it’s more healthy than not to let them lose their social stigma by becoming no more than mere insults with no more connection to a medical term (which, let’s face it, most professionals don’t even use anymore in favor of more precise phrases) than words like idiot or moron. I’m simply not so concerned about an issue that in my opinion cannot be stopped and could be best solved by just letting the word change connotations; After all, is it any less insulting to call a developmentally disabled person stupid, idiotic, moronic, or any similar phrase? Of course not; the sentiment is what carries the attack, not the word. And therefore, I will defend the crassification, as it were, of the word retard by saying that what’s best for all parties is to care more about actions and attitudes than of phrases like this that will never be reigned in the way you want them to be.

  23. lifeofawillow November 22, 2013 at 12:46 am #


  24. OldManAndTheCplusplus November 22, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    A quick search on the OED (the definitive record of the English language) shows that that is a correct definition of the word. There are lots of words with offensive definitions, but those are the definitions none the less. Whether you find that definition offensive or not (which it is) doesn’t change the fact that it is correct and a dictionary is supposed to be correct.

    Also, I am not sure why you keep referring to the “French” version. All definitions stem etymologically from the “French” version.

    • phoebz4 November 22, 2013 at 10:56 am #

      If you read the post, I state how many people, when using the term “retard” as an insulting thing – like “My computer is so retarded” – when called upon it, they will say “Oh, but I meant the French Version, as in slow.” Which to me, is a bit BS, because why don’t they just say “Geez, my computer is running slow!” So at this point, I refer to “retard” with “The French Version” – clear as mud?

  25. Down Wit Dat November 22, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    I’m an android girl, but I will certainly be posting the link to Wolfram Alpha on DWD’s Facebook page.

    Thanks for the shout out… and the heads up.

  26. Betty Broda Contreras November 22, 2013 at 11:05 am #


  27. Colleen Richards November 22, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Did anyone else pick up on the fact that the introductory first paragraph didn’t fit the example (definition of “gay” vs. “retard”)? What’s with that?

    • phoebz4 November 22, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

      It was the reason why I pulled out my phone – to see how it would define “retard” – I guess how I wrote it wasn’t clear enough?

  28. Brendan November 22, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    If you are handing an iPad to someone whom might be offended over the use of the word, or for some reason would look it up in the first place, turn off Siri. If you don’t want someone with a disability asking Siri what a “retard” is, which I highly doubt will happen as frequently as you suggest, turn the program off or take away the iPad. The world exposes people to every word, phrase, or gesture whether you seem it inappropriate or not. It is just natural to experience these occurrences and learn about them, making a clear and conscious effort to guide the observer as to whether the nature of the inappropriate behavior in question is good or bad. If you would not like someone to come across any sort of negativity, then putting an iPad in the hands of someone who may be exposed to inappropriate material is counterproductive and contradicts your logic.

  29. mrwesterberg November 23, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    I agree this is a PR mishap for Apple. Listing the particular definition first is most likely because of the sorting method Apple chose to use when sorting all the words in its dictionary, and its probably not a good idea because people will find it in bad taste. I also agree the word “retard” is used far too often, and usually not in the appropriate way. However, I would argue with one point of logic in this article. The word “offensive” or words like it give an opinion to the definition of the word being defined, particularly in this case. But leaving out such opinion words do not impute an opinion into the definition of the word being defined. It is clear that Google and Bing (Microsoft) think “retard” can be offensive. However, Apple did not define the word as “non-offensive,” they simply defined it as a word with a particular meaning. A dictionary is a collection of words and their definitions. Such a collection should be as factually accurate as possible. Opinions tend to be opposite facts, and will often times disguise one another when put closely together.

    I am not saying this oversight by Apple is not tasteless or wrong, I just want people to be careful to use correct logic and not assume facts not present.

  30. Laine Redpath-Cole November 25, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    This is why I love the clear and up-to-date Macmillan Dictionary

  31. acorporatewife December 2, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    Please note, I received a message back from Wolfram Alpha today:
    From: “Lindsay Kruger via RT”
    Subject: [W|A #480962] W|A Feedback
    Date: December 2, 2013 at 1:42:22 PM EST
    Cc: xxxxx

    We appreciate your feedback regarding Wolfram|Alpha. The issue you reported has been fixed on the site. See

    Thank you for helping us improve Wolfram|Alpha.

    Best wishes,

    The Wolfram|Alpha Team

    On Thu Nov 21 15:57:48 2013, wrote:

    My family adores Apple products, and we like Siri. We currently own an
    iMac, two iPads, two iPhones, an iPod, and two iPod shuffles.
    That’s just my nuclear family. My sister and her family have owned
    iMacs for years. My brother and his family have used Mac Books…
    and currently use an iPad. See, they have a daughter with Down
    Syndrome, and that iPad has helped her tremendously. (She is now in
    kindergarten.) But I just read something about a search result on
    Siri, which cites Wolfram Alpha.

    I did not write the attached post. But I agree with every word. Please
    fix the problem, I’m sure it will be simple to do.

    Thank you,

    • phoebz4 December 2, 2013 at 11:55 pm #

      I got a similar email today as well. I’m very happy that they took our views into consideration!

      • acorporatewife December 3, 2013 at 10:11 am #

        Me too!! Thanks for writing such a provocative and effective post.


  1. In the News – November 2013 | The PsychoJenic Archives - December 16, 2013

    […] Dear Apple, your dictionary is crap […]

  2. For the dads... | Josh Holmes - February 13, 2014

    […] Sephora for their insensitive naming of a particular lipstick, Apple for their dictionary’s definition of the word retarted and many more great […]

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