I'd often say that we need better words for many, many things! Historically and into the present, a lot of language - or, more specifically, most language which is given status, is recorded, is spread - is created and controlled by people with power and status. Which means that groups without power and status don't get represented at all, or get represented through the viewpoint of other powerful groups, which can be very skewed. (... eg, "eligible spinster" vs. "eligible bachelor"; "master" (of a trade?) vs. "mistress" (of a man?); "sir" vs."madam" (a sex worker?)? Language is sexist, because humans made it so.)
But not to digress too much! Yes, it drives me up the wall when people say that "homophobia" is "fear of homosexuality/gay people". No, that's not what that word means! There are many, many words which never/no longer mean their literal component parts. It's particularly absurd here because "hydrophobic" molecules are certainly not afraid of water; the term describes their behaviour with water molecules. But bigots will be bigots and argue that the moon is made of cheese, if it serves them. I think in this case the word doesn't really help the situation - this "fear" thing matters
, as hateful people use it as an "excuse" to justify violence. But at the same time, I'm not sure that changing the language here would help greatly: my (unscientific!) guess would be that bigots use this as a handy excuse and would find something else, and it's not so much that this language is heavily blinkering and restricting people's worldviews.
Laima, that's interesting that "heterosexist" etc denote hatred to you. I'm familiar with their use to indicate prejudice and discrimination - and find them extremely useful! - but not familiar with the added meaning of hatred. For example, I'd think of "sexism" = "prejudice/discrimination on the grounds of sex/gender", and "misogyny" = "hatred of women"; parallel "heterosexism" = prejudice/discrimination on the grounds of orientation, het-superiority", and "homophobia" = "hatred of queerness/homosexuality/LGBQ people, anti-gay". Perhaps this is somewhere where we're seeing a language change happening? Perhaps even partly in response to the imperfect "-phobia"? (The apparent pattern of "-ism" vs. something else doesn't hold even for me, though: for a start, I can't think of a separate word to denote hatred of disabled people, and I'd certainly say that "white supremacism" is hateful. So! Language is never simple
I'd be interested to know how other people experience these words!