Singular ‘they’ has been added by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a way to refer to nonbinary individuals who identify as neither male nor 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 states that it has 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.
Singular ‘They’ as a Personal Pronoun
Merriam-Webster’s fourth definition of ‘they’ is now: “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 male or female.
Based on the now outdated belief that ‘he’ and ‘she’ were the only valid pronouns, some English speaking individuals might have found the use of ‘they’ as a singular pronoun to be either confusing or ungrammatical.
However, as stated by Emily Brewster (Senior Editor for Merriam-Webster) in a NBS news article, “We are always aiming to reflect usage. It’s very clear that this is fully established in the language at this point.”
In addition to this recognition of the word ‘they’ as a pronoun by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the American Dialect Society chose singular ‘they’ as their word of the year in 2015, clearly signifying a vote of approval for that usage of the word.
Furthermore, the U.S. government, as well as colleges, school districts, and airlines, have begun offering a gender option of ‘X’ on identification cards as a way to account for non-binary individuals. In an announcement issued March 22, 2019, United Airlines wrote, “Customers can now identify themselves as M (male), F (female), U (undisclosed) or X (unspecified), in addition to having the option to select the gender-neutral title “Mx.”
— Cade Hildreth | LGBTQ+ (@CadeHildreth) March 24, 2019
United’s Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist also shared, “United is determined to lead the industry in LGBT inclusivity, and we are so proud to be the first U.S. airline to offer these inclusive booking options for our customers.”
Growth of Nonbinary
Nonbinary is a term used by people who reject the idea of a gender binary (male/female). Nonbinary people may identify as both man and woman, they may identify as genderless, or they may alternate between gender identifications over time. Personally, I identify as nonbinary, because I identify with a spectrum of gender identities.
Merriam-Webster‘s addition of the singular ‘they’ is yet another recognition of the cultural importance and increasing acceptance of nonbinary 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.”
This Twitter post received nearly 50,000 retweets and 350,000 “likes”, showing overwhelming support for Sam’s pronoun choice.
New Additions to Merriam-Webster
In case you’re curious, here are some of other newly added words and terms (the ones I like the best):
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? Let me know in the comments below, because I’d love to address you correctly. Mine at they/them. Let’s also connect on Instagram so I can share in your world too!