Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The editor of the American Heritage Dictionary addresses the 'anchor baby' controversy

A post Tuesday examined the controversy over the term "anchor baby," a pejorative reference to  children of undocumented immigrants, as a new entry in the American Heritage Dictionary.

The original entry defined the politically loaded term as a neutral one, prompting a harsh critique of the dictionary publishers' decision by Immigration Policy Center director Mary Giovagnoli on the Immigration Impact website. This in turn promoted a response from Steven Kleinedler, executive director of the American Heritage Dictionary, who promised a revision. On Monday, a new definition of "anchor baby" as "a disparaging term" was published online.

Part of the discussion among those who posted comments under Giovagnoli's critique and other reports was whether "anchor baby" should be in the dictionary in the first place. ColorLines magazine has a Q&A with Kleinedler in which he explains why, but admits it was a mistake to define the term neutrally. From the interview ("Q" and "A" added by me for clarification):

Q: The term is racially charged and that context is lacking in the definition. What was the process by which you decided this is the year that anchor baby has to make it into the dictionary?

A: "Anchor baby" received a lot of play in the media a couple years ago. Here"s one of our criteria: not only was it being used on the national stage, but when journalists were using it, while using the term, they were not explaining what it meant. For example, sometimes you"ll see people using phrases or words and then explain what it means. If they have to give a definition, while talking about it, that"s an indication that it"s not a common word.

But once journalists and the like start throwing out a word without explanation, they are assuming that people will know what it means, and that"s the type of thing that people will go and look up in a dictionary. At that point it entered our radar and we felt there had been enough discussion of it in the political scene to warrant its inclusion.

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