Homophobia, Homomisia, and the Associated Press: Why Lingo Counts- Thoughts?

29 Nov

By Robert Epstein, Ph.D.

The recent move by the Associated Press to ban the use of the word “homophobia” by its reporters is smart, long overdue, and indicative of media and cultural trends.

The term “homophobia,” introduced by psychologist George Weinberg in 1972, is an unfortunate euphemism.  People with strong reservations about homosexuality don’t fear gays (a phobia is an irrational fear); rather, they often have an aversion to them.  And that’s a euphemism too.  Many people actually hate gays and even the very idea of homosexuality.

Anti-gay feelings vary from time to time and culture to culture.  In the U.S., surveys suggest that the proportion of the population that’s anti-gay has been decreasing gradually over the years, but it’s still likely well over 50 percent.  In the Netherlands, that proportion is under 20 percent, whereas in Uganda, legislation is now being considered that would make homosexual behavior punishable by death.

Anti-gay sentiment in Western countries is rooted in the Bible, which contains strong language prohibiting males from “lying with” other males (see Romans 1:26-27 and Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, for example).  But the Bible also contains other prohibitions – against getting tattoos, for example (Leviticus 19:28) – which are largely ignored these days.  As cultural norms change, people are often willing to set aside Biblical proscriptions.  The growing number of states in the U.S.that allow gay marriage or domestic partnerships – now 19 – is indicative of such change.

Language changes too, although sometimes very slowly.  In recent decades, the trend toward using politically correct language – that is, language that does not demean particular cultural groups – has gained traction.  Although the correctness shift itself is offensive to many people, it appears to be unstoppable, in part because groups that were previously denigrated by harsh language – women, blacks, and Latinos, in particular – now play more important roles in mainstream society.  Demographic trends in the U.S.assure that various minorities will play even greater roles here in the future.

Shifting toward neutral, inoffensive language is, one hopes, part of a larger cultural trend toward tolerance and understanding.  It also has commercial value, because people are more likely to buy when the language directed at them by vendors is neutral or positive rather than objectionable.

So how should we describe people with strong anti-gay sentiments?   The Associated Press is right in setting aside the homophobia lingo, but what do we have to replace it?  In an article I published in 2003 in Psychology Today magazine when I was editor-in-chief there, I suggested that the Greek root misos, which means hatred or aversion, was the way to go.  That gives us homomisia for the noun and homomisic for the adjective.

From both the communications and correctness perspectives, homomisia and homomisic are better terms than homophobia and homophobic.  They’re more honest, for one thing, and they rightly put a weightier burden on the haters.  When you fear something, it’s often because the object of that fear is genuinely frightening.  When you hate, however, it’s often because of ignorance and bias, which is clearly the case with homomisia.  Violence against gays is a hate crime, after all; it would be absurd to call it a fear crime.  Suggesting that gays are in any sense objects of fear was ludicrous from the beginning, in my view.



Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


5 responses to “Homophobia, Homomisia, and the Associated Press: Why Lingo Counts- Thoughts?

  1. safona

    December 3, 2012 at 1:51 am

    When communicating, we should strive to be most accurate in the words that we choose to use to convey our message(s). We should desire to be as consice as possible, especially if the language being used is offensive to others. I am sure that we would appreciate others reconsidering thier language if it was offensive to us. I believe that many of our societal problems would be largely remedied if we would only give other people the same kind of consideration that we want them to extend to us.

  2. flapjack92

    December 4, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    It’s actually somewhat surprising to me that someone hasn’t made a bigger deal of using the word homomisia over homophobia. Homophobia literally means to fear gays, so it makes perfect sense, “When you fear something, it’s often because the object of that fear is genuinely frightening. When you hate, however, it’s often because of ignorance and bias.” People usually hate things that they don’t fully know about, so hatred would better describe their feeling towards homosexuals. Not that I think hatred toward anybody who is gay is ok, but it really does make more sense than fearing the idea of homosexuality. With that, I agree with Safona that ” we should strive to be most accurate in the words that we choose to use to convey our message(s)”. In the end though, people really should just be more considerate to others, if it’s not affecting your life dramatically, then you really should “fear” or hate it?

  3. joylanadventurer01

    December 6, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Bringing the bible into this, in my opinion, is absurd. There are a multitude of things that are in the bible but not followed by its believers. Why should people get so upset over this thing if they are not being equally upset about all the other guidelines that are being broken? No two people are the same, and not everyone likes the same thing. I believe calling it a fear is wrong as well. Personally I believe that it is obviously not fear, but ignorance. The person who is “homophobic” is just being ignorant of other peoples choices and interests. But anyways, why should we call this anything? Can’t we just let it be, why does there have to be a name for everything? Why can’t we just let them be who they are? Ignorant people. We should not be so obnoxious with the naming bit, and we should just let things go. I believe that people are trying to be far too involved in other peoples lives, we should just mind our own business.

  4. bananas320

    December 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    I do think that the term homophobia should be switched out for a more accurate term, such as homomisia. Imagine if homosexual people were called heterophobic. Im sure that would cause a maelstrom of rage from that side of the spectrum. In PR and the public I think things are usually taken way out of context and that is a big turn off for the profession for me. As public relations professional, (although I had better get used to it, being in the communications field) I feel like I am going to get really tired really fast about people being over sensitive about things. Everyone should be free to be who they are, and I have to right to tell someone they cant be with the one they love, but at the same hand, no one should force me to share their value. On a more related note, everyones feelings must be considered, or attempted to the best of the profssionals ability. Lingo would unavoidably count.

  5. baconftwlolz

    December 14, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Ya im gonna agree the the above poster, I think homophobe needs to be changed. The word puts a negative connotation on gays as extremely terrifying and that just isn’t the case. Not only that but I have run across a multitude of people who don’t even realize that homophobe means to be afraid of gays. It is my true belief that this change in naming could actually have a long term impact on the way people feel about homophobes. With the term homomisia it would turn the negative connotation back on the bigots. Also it sounds like a disease but whtever.


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