gay. lesbian

In 2004, I asked Merriam-Webster the following question. Assistant Editor, Emily A. Vezina, replied as follows.

Q: People often distinguish between “gay” (homosexual) and “lesbian” (a female homosexual); in fact, many groups call themselves the Gay and Lesbian… But if one is a lesbian, one is by definition gay. Is the distinction between “gay” and “lesbian” therefore false?

A: Our job here is to describe the English language as it is actually used and not to tell people how they should or should not use words. Currently, both men and women use the word “gay” to describe themselves, though the word is used more frequently to refer to men. “Lesbian” refers exclusively to women.

So, yes, the meaning of “gay” does overlap with the meaning of “lesbian.” However, we would never call this distinction “false” since this is simply the way the words have evolved and we make no judgment about that.

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