Wrote another complaint letter today

by Caleb Reading

I hope this doesn’t become habit forming. I don’t want to be like one of those assgiraffes on the Parent’s Television Council.

The fourth edition of The American Heritage Dictionary includes “immorality” as one of it’s definitions for the word “atheist”.  The first edition (from 1970 or so) doesn’t include that bigotry.  So somebody added it more recently when people should really know better by now.  I wrote them this complaint letter (and I wasn’t the only one writing a complaint letter about this at the time, nor the first, just so it’s clear I’m not taking credit for other people’s work):


The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition includes “immorality” as a definition of “atheist”.

Could you explain to me why it’s remotely appropriate to call me, your customer, immoral because of my religious status? Are you bigots? Some people may carry a hateful opinion of atheists, but that does not give you carte blanche to place that hate in a dictionary.

This insult was not in the first edition, so who working at your company decided to insert it? If they had inserted the same alternate definition (“immorality”) under the heading of “female” or “homosexual” or “hispanic” or “jewish” would they still have a job? Would your editor have allowed it in the final printing?



I received this reply:

Thank you for your thoughtful email regarding one of the definitions of the term atheism in the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

We feel your point is well-taken, and we think the definition is misleading as phrased and should be reconsidered.

We will change this entry as soon as production processes allow to
accommodate your concerns.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Best wishes,

Joseph Pickett
Vice President and Executive Editor