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Community / The Brae academic helping to shape the dictionary

A PUBLIC sociology lecturer originally from Shetland has added a fairly impressive feat to his CV – being a consultant for the Collins English Dictionary.

Karl Johnson, who lectures at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University has acted as a social affairs consultant for the dictionary’s 13th and 14th editions.

Publisher HarperCollins has consultants for its dictionary across a range of fields, from geology and law to computer science and politics, who help to shape new editions.

Karl Johnson, who lived in Brae before moving south.

Johnson, who is originally from Brae, has helped to review more than 500 words relating to gender and sexuality, and their definitions.

This includes noting any instances where language needed expanded upon or rephrased, or was outdated and/or derogatory.

One example he mentioned was ‘consenting adult’, which was previously defined as a male person over the age of 16 “who may legally engage in homosexual behaviour in private”.

Johnson said this has now been updated to “a person over the age of sixteen who willingly engages in a sexual activity”.

“There was also the opportunity to suggest the inclusion of some words and additional definitions,” he added.

Speaking to Shetland News, the academic said the link-up with the dictionary first came about in 2018 when he and a colleague met with the publisher about doing some consultancy work ahead of their 13th edition.

“My colleague knew one of the editors and they wanted to talk about reviewing and updating hundreds of words relating to gender and sexuality, as an area of language development in society,” Johnson said.

He added that their analysis was well received by HarperCollins.

“Some of my friends and family – especially my wife – were excited that I had ‘written’ the dictionary, but I didn’t think about it again until I was contacted in early 2022 to see if I would have the capacity to review some word entries again – though nowhere near as many as the first time,” Johnson said.

“I very gladly did, and answered some further queries as and when they came up, ahead of the 14th edition being published in August this year.”

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