Moya Bailey first used misogynoir in a 2010 posting to the Crunk Feminist Collective blog to describe the specific type of oppression that Black women experience often characterized by a combination of racism and sexism.
How many words are in the English language? No one truly knows. Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in the United States, estimates there are over a million words. Whatever the number, add one more. “Misogynoir” — the newest word included in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary — was coined by Northwestern’s School of Communication associate professor Moya Bailey.
What is misogynoir?
Misogynoir brings together the words “misogyny” and “noir,” the latter meaning “black” in French. Bailey, who teaches in the department of communication studies, first used misogynoir in a 2010 posting to the Crunk Feminist Collective blog to describe the specific type of oppression that Black women experience often characterized by a combination of racism and sexism.
“The real root of misogynoir is how people perceive and treat Black women and understand them to be worthy of respect and care,” Bailey said. “Changes have to happen at the structural level of our society, not just the individual behaviors.”
Getting in the dictionary
It’s not easy to have a word added to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster says dictionary editors read actively, looking for changes in language. Suggestions for new words are not accepted. The company says if you have a new word “use it.” Editors suggest dropping the word into your conversations and writing. The more the word spreads and becomes part of the American lexicon, the more likely it will be noticed by dictionary editors. If the word is one that Merriam-Webster editors decide is needed in the English language, it has a good chance of getting into the dictionary.
The natural evolution of ‘misogynoir’
After using the term misogynoir in the blog post, Bailey noticed other Black feminists were using it as well. It was even picked up by major news outlets and on television, including the series “Charmed” and on an episode of “The Daily Show.” Singer Katy Perry used misogynoir in a tweet of support for Black comedian Leslie Jones when she was the victim of an attack orchestrated by alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. Bailey says that was one of the first major public uses of the term. Misogynoir was also referenced by some journalists to describe the treatment of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearings. In 2021, Bailey wrote about misogynoir in her first single authored book “Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance,” published by New York University Press.
Bailey calls having a word she coined included in the dictionary a surreal experience. “It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, I feel very proud that I created something that is useful to people, but also really saddened that it has to be used too much. I’m hopeful for the day where people don’t use it.”