The Autistic English Dictionary3 min read

The Autistic English Dictionary (AED) is the principal dictionary of the English language for autistic people. It is published by the Autistic Collaboration (AutCollab) community. It traces the historical development of Autistic language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as describing usage in its many variations throughout the world. The first edition (1.0.0) will be published in 2052.

Work began on the dictionary in 2020. The first entries of the dictionary were made available online in April 2020. The first edition of the dictionary will most likely only appear in electronic form; the Chief Assistant of the Assistant Chief of AutCollab Press has stated that it is unlikely that it will ever be printed.

Entries and relative size

According to the publishers, it would take a single person 120 years to “key in” the 59 million words of the AED first edition, 60 years to proofread them, and 540 megabytes to store them electronically. As of 18 April 2020, the Autistic English Dictionary contained approximately 25 main entries.

Origins

The dictionary began as an autistic community project of a small group of autists on the Internet – Jorn Bettin, Terra Vance, and Russell Elliott, who concluded that in order to be comprehensible to autistic people, the English language needs to be updated with explicit definitions of the continuously shifting unspoken semantics that neurotypical speakers attach to specific words and phrases.

The community expressed interest in compiling a new dictionary as early as 1998, but it was not until April 2020 that they began by forming a “Comprehensive Semantics Committee” to search for words with unlisted semantics or poorly defined semantics in other dictionaries.

The editors of the dictionary have a clear agenda – to advance the autistic civil rights movement, by counteracting what Steve Silberman has fittingly described as the “truth dysfunction” in non-autistic people.

The AED is a tool that enables autistic people to perform their natural role as the agents of a well functioning cultural immune system within human society, and thereby to contribute to a social environment that offers a high level of psychological safety to all members of society.

The current edition (0.0.1) focuses on an initial list of words that address one or more of seven distinct shortcomings in contemporary dictionaries:

  • Incomplete coverage of words used by the autistic community
  • Inconsistent coverage of families of related words
  • Incorrect origins of words
  • Non-literal neurotypical senses of words often omitted
  • Inadequate distinction among synonyms
  • Insufficient use of good illustrative quotations
  • Space wasted on inappropriate or redundant content.

The community ultimately realises that the number of words with unlisted semantics or poorly defined semantics would be far more than the number of listed word semantics in the English dictionaries of the 21st century, and intends to shift from covering only semantics that were not already in English dictionaries to a larger project before publication of the first edition in 2052. The community knows that a new, truly comprehensive dictionary is needed.

AED edition 0.0.1

autisticenglishdictionary

You can view or download the entire dictionary in pdf format from the AED project page on the Autistic Collaboration website.

The AED is an autistic community project. The editors encourage autistic people from all over the world to submit suggested entries based on their experiences.

We are in particular looking for entries that shed light on the unspoken semantics that neurotypical speakers attach to specific words and phrases.

For the selection of usage examples of terminology developed by autistic people the editors encourage contributors to point to examples from autistic people.

To contribute new entries or improved definitions and usage examples, simply use the online form at https://autcollab.org/projects/autistic-english-dictionary/.

Acknowledgements

Several of the initial 25 entries and definitions in the dictionary are based on the works of Judy Singer and Nick Walker and the terms neurodivergent and neurodivergence were coined by Kassiane Asasumasu, a multiply neurodivergent neurodiversity activist.

The definition of autism in the AED is based on the communal definition of autism, which is a living document that is shaped by input and feedback from the autistic community.

5 Comments

  1. I have read through the definitions available so far. There is a clear agenda being portrayed, as evidenced in the bias of some of the definitions.

    E.g.
    conference
    1. super-human scale face to face meme exchange, legacy ritual
    2. disease breeding ground

    Both of these definitions are almost entirely opinion based. As an autist, I have a difficult time determining what is actually meant here. A conference is some specific “thing” (e.g. a noun). However, these definitions neither tell me what a conference actually consists of, how it works, why it exists etc.

    tldr; This dictionary effort is a poor attempt at what could be an extremely helpful dictionary, and it seems like something that a group of non autistic individuals with some agenda are pushing onto autists.

    1. Author

      Of course the Autistic English Dictionary has an agenda, just like any dictionary, including the Oxford English Dictionary etc.

      Like any good dictionary, all entries point to relevant examples of how people use language. We can use the entry for ‘conference’ that you complain about to illustrate the point. There is an associated example for each of the two meanings.

      1. “Gartner Digital Workplace is the must-attend conference for digital workplace, application, IT and business leaders, and architects who are involved in digital workplace strategy to enable new, more effective ways of working to raise employee engagement and agility.”

      includes a link to https://www.gartner.com/en/conferences/apac/digital-workplace-japan from which the example was sourced. Given the COVID-19 situation, it is highly unlikely that we’ll again see large scale conferences like this one any time soon. This particular conference is also a good example of why it makes sense to think of conferences as meme exchanges. I worked as an IT industry analyst for a while and am all too familiar with the way in which new memes are peddled in this particular conference. Gartner is the company that invented the “hype cycle” and the “magic quadrant”.

      2. “On March 26 the Southern DHB confirmed 12 new cases of COVID-19, with ‘at least one’ attending the Wanaka A&P Show in association with people who were at the World Hereford Conference.”

      includes a link to https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/120516059/coronavirus-inside-the-cattle-conference-cluster-of-14-confirmed-cases. If you follow this link and read the article within which the sentence appears, you’ll learn that the context refers to an international conference of cattle breeders, and that at the latest event many delegates were infected by the SARS CoV2 virus, which has led to one of the largest clusters of COVID-19 in New Zealand.

      You’ll find neither of the listed meanings or anything close to it in the Oxford English Dictionary, but in our society many conferences are sales and marketing events, and since the emergence of SARS CoV2, virtually all conferences of any scale have been cancelled or replaced by online events.

      If you feel the dictionary should include all the documented meanings listed in other dictionaries, please feel free to submit them via the simple online form at https://autcollab.org/projects/autistic-english-dictionary/. We are not opposed to including established meanings of words, but as explained in the introduction to the AED, we are keen on documenting all the additional unspoken meanings that words have acquired over the years. Lastly, the AED also contains definitions of new words invented by autistic people, including relevant examples sourced from autistic people.

      1. I actually thought that this was a worthwhile idea. But when I saw what you are actually doing, it became clear that this isn’t going anywhere.

        You are right that other dictionary makers have an agenda. An agenda is just a list of things to do. But the agenda of dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary is to describe objectively what the word means and how it is used by people. You are trying to force people to think like you want them to.

        Conference does not mean “disease breeding ground”. Airplane doesn’t mean “disease vector”. Putting these definitions in your dictionary isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about this.

        1. Author

          Dictionaries contain definitions based on concrete usage examples. Language continuously evolves, it is never static.

          Established words and phrases can acquire new or additional meaning in several ways: (a.) the referenced concept or its function changes or evolves, and people start associating the changed or new functions with the word; (b.) people start using specific words as part of indirect language that sacrifices clarity to make language more colourful, polite, entertaining or intentionally difficult to understand in order to avoid criticism; (c.) people use a word or phrase in a metaphorical sense, applying it to a new context. We all contribute to the evolution of language by using it in our own unique contexts.

          See my earlier comment on the specific definitions you take issue with. Hundreds and probably thousands of conferences have been cancelled because they have become disease breeding grounds, and similarly thousands of flights have been cancelled because airplanes have become very effective disease vectors due to a 10-fold increase in air travel over the last 50 years – epidemiologists point out that this makes it increasingly hard to prevent pandemics. The new meanings are examples of mechanism (a.).

          1. Perhaps it’d be beneficial to have two separate dictionaries wherein one is as free from bias, neutral toned, & objective in its definitions as possible, and the other has more commonly “autistic” biases & humour, which brings allows for more creative expression of certain autistic experiences of reality to be taken into account?

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