Jaguar asks the Oxford English Dictionary to change its definition of “car”

Oxford English Dictionary car definition Jaguar

Although arguing from a dictionary definition is not the most sophisticated form of rhetoric, words do have meaning. Over time, however, definitions change, words take on new interpretations, and dictionaries do catalog those changes. When using English words, the final arbiter of their meanings for centuries has been the Oxford English Dictionary, known to writers, editors, and language geeks as the OED. The OED is the accepted authority when it comes to English usage. Now Jaguar has asked the OED to change its definition of “car”—or at least how the dictionary defines it online.

Why? Well, Jaguar’s I-Pace battery-electric SUV has been awarded both the World Car of the Year and European Car of the Year titles, but as far as the online OED is concerned, the I-Pace is not a car. You see, it is powered by an electric motor, and the online version of the OED defines car, when used in an automotive context, to mean something that runs on fossil fuel, not electrons.

From the online OED: “A road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal combustion engine and able to carry a small number of people.”

That’s a small, but significant change from the printed version of the OED, which less categorically states that a car’s motor is “usually an internal combustion engine.”

Consequently, Jaguar is mounting a hashtag campaign, #RedefineTheCar, calling on the Oxford University Press, publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary, to update the online definition of car. No doubt Jaguar also wants the hashtag to mean that the I-Pace is redefining what a car is.

“A lot of time and thought is put into the name of any new vehicle or technology to ensure it is consumer friendly, so it’s surprising to see that the definition of the car is a little outdated,” says David Browne, head of the Jaguar Land Rover committee responsible for product naming. “We are therefore inviting the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionaries to update its online classification to reflect the shift from traditional internal combustion engines towards more sustainable powertrains.”

With the I-Pace’s 0–60-mph time of just 4.5 seconds and a range of 292 miles, it’s at least as much of a car as Karl Benz’s Patent Motorwagen three-wheeler. Considering that the OED contains the definitions, pronunciations, and etymologies of about 600,000 words, it’s not like Jaguar is asking for a major change—just one small, three-letter word’s definition.

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