The Style Book now dictates that “-phobia” should not be used in “political or social contexts” and should only be referred to as “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness.”
“Ethnic cleansing” is described as a “euphemism” that “must be enclosed in quotes, attributed and explained.”
AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told Politico:
“Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for pretty violent activities, a phobia is a psychiatric or medical term for a severe mental disorder. Those terms have been used quite a bit in the past, and we don’t feel that’s quite accurate.
“When you break down ‘ethnic cleansing,’ it’s a cover for terrible violent activities. It’s a term we certainly don’t want to propagate. Homophobia especially—it’s just off the mark. It’s ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don’t have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.
“We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing.”
The father of “homophobia,” the word rather, Dr. George Weinberg, does not agree with the AP’s decision. Weinberg, who coined the term in his 1972 book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual, spoke with journalist Andy Humm (h/t: ThinkProgress):
It made all the difference to City Councils and other people I spoke to. It encapsulates a whole point of view and of feeling. It was a hard-won word, as you can imagine. It even brought me some death threats. Is homophobia always based on fear? I thought so and still think so. Maybe envy in some cases. But that’s a psychological question. Is every snarling dog afraid? Probably yes. But here it shouldn’t matter. We have no other word for what we’re talking about, and this one is well established.
The AP’s decision, though disappointing, does not erase the fact that homophobia (or, “homophobia”) does exist and has an accepted meaning in society. And although homophobia may not technically be a mental illness, you can’t listen to people from the National Organization for Marriage or the Family Research Council without getting the feeling that they’re batshit cray cray.