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Public editor: The need to understand the context of words and how they evolve

Last week, TV columnist John Doyle wrote a column criticizing the CBC's new show Great Canadian Baking Show.

As a TV critic, he was not overly impressed by this re-make of a British show. "If you're a fan of The Great British Bake Off, you will not feel bamboozled, but you might feel bewildered by the reverential copying."

In discussing the judges, he wrote: "Both are a tad stiff and nervous and little wonder – at any moment, they know they might be swarmed by the feyness of [co-host Dan] Levy and the tweeness of [co-host Julia] Chan.

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In a social media post, Mr. Levy said that while he acknowledges criticism of cultural matters, as a "proud gay man, being criticized for my 'feyness' (defined by Merriam-Webster as 'campy' and 'precious') in today's Globe and Mail struck me as offensive, irresponsible and homophobic…."

Mr. Doyle was not aware that Mr. Levy was gay and he used the term to mean preciousness.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary doesn't seem to suggest a slur (other definitions: doomed, visionary, excessively refined, quaintly unconventional), but it is clear in terms of the reaction, especially on social media, that some people, notably in the gay community, disagree. Lesson learned that you cannot rely on dictionaries alone. We need to understand not just the context of words, but how they evolve and are viewed by communities that may be justly sensitive to a range of meanings. In any case, this word should not be used knowingly in any reference to LGBTQ people.

Editor-in-chief David Walmsley said "we caused unintended offence and for that we apologize."

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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