Merriam-Webster officially announced the word ‘they’ as its 2019 Word of the Year. Previously, singular ‘they’ was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in September 2019 as a pronoun to be used to refer to a person whose gender identity is nonbinary.
The word was a clear forerunner, as Merriam-Webster stated that searches for ‘they’ increased by 313% in 2019 compared to 2018. This is unsurprising, as English has been notorious for lacking a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Thus, ‘they’ has been used in this context for hundreds of years.
The American Dialect Society also chose singular ‘they’ as their word of the year in 2015, signifying a vote of approval for its usage as a pronoun for nonbinary individuals.
Both of these awards provide critical support for the understanding that gender is not binary. Rather, gender exists as a spectrum of biological, mental and emotional traits that exist along a continuum.
Singular ‘They’, a Personal Pronoun
Since September 2019, Merriam-Webster’s fourth definition of ‘they’ has been: “Used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.”
Meaning, the word can be used to describe someone who doesn’t identify as a specific gender, such as male or female.
Traditionally, ‘they’ had been restricted to referencing groups of people and not a single individual.
The addition of ‘they’ as a valid pronoun along side ‘he’ and ‘she’ was disclosed in an article published on the official website of the Merriam-Webster dictionary on September 17, 2019.
The article stated that the dictionary had added more than 533 new words and meanings as a way to check, update, and revise the dictionary to reflect newly-established words and changes within society.
“They’ as a Nonbinary Pronoun
As explained by Emily Brewster, Senior Editor for Merriam-Webster: “We are always aiming to reflect usage. It’s very clear that this is fully established in the language at this point.”
In another step toward recognition of gender nonconforming (GNC) people, 18 U.S. States, as well as a number of colleges, school districts, and airlines, now offer a gender option of ‘X’ on identification cards as a way to account for non-binary individuals.
Since March 2019, United Airlines has allowed customers to identify themselves as M (male), F (female), U (undisclosed) or X (unspecified), as well as offered the gender-neutral title “Mx.”
Nonbinary and Gender Nonconforming People
Nonbinary is a term used by people who reject the idea of a gender binary (male/female). Nonbinary people may identify with a spectrum of genders, they may identify as genderless, they may alternate between genders, or they may have a different or more expansive identity altogether.
Personally, I identify as nonbinary, because I embrace a spectrum of gender identities.
Our bodies are beautiful. They are different. They are remarkable. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/ZG0THyn7y8
— Cade Hildreth | LGBTQ+ (@CadeHildreth) March 11, 2019
Merriam-Webster‘s addition of ‘they’ as a singular nonbinary pronoun is yet another recognition of the cultural importance and increasing acceptance of nonbinary and gender nonconforming (GNC) identities in society.
Recent celebrities to bring nonbinary identities into the spotlight include Jonathan Van Ness, Alok Vaid-Menon, and Bex Taylor-Klaus, among many others. The Grammy award winner, Sam Smith, also brought attention to the term when they tweeted, saying:
“Today is a good day so here goes. I’ve decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM, after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out.”
Sam’s Twitter post received 50,000+ retweets and 350,000+ “likes”, showing overwhelming support for their pronoun choice.
New Additions to Merriam-Webster
Other newly added words by the Merriam-Webster include:
Deep state: an alleged secret governmental network operating extralegally. It may feel as though the term has been around since when men wore fedoras in Washington, but current evidence dates it only to the dawn of the current century.
Stinger: the name for a short scene that appears during or after the closing credits of a movie.
Haircut: a new sense was added meaning “a reduction in the value of an asset.”
Pain point: a persistent or recurring problem (as with a product or service) that frequently inconveniences or annoys customers.
Vacay: a shortening of vacation
Sesh: a shortening of session
Inspo: a shortening of inspiration
What are Your Pronouns?
What are your pronouns? Mine are they/them. Let me know yours in the comments below?
Lastly, let’s connect on Instagram so I can share in your world too.