Sadly, we have lived to see interesting times, as the saying goes. Merriam-Webster has announced the winner of their Word of the Year honors and it’s the word “they.” Now, I know what you might be thinking. They is a pronoun that’s been in the English language since… well, pretty much as long as English has been a language in one form or another. But for all of that history, the venerable pronoun has been used in the plural or, alternately, in cases where the subject is not easily identified. (“The police have no suspects but are still searching for the culprit, whoever they may be.”) It’s also used when the gender of a single individual is not known, but not in every tense.
But now that’s changed. MW will now recognize “they” as meaning a single individual of non-binary gender, as in part of the whole “gender spectrum” madness that’s been going around. (NBC News)
Merriam-Webster’s 2019 Word of the Year is “they” — the singular pronoun that has gained popularity as a way to refer to nonbinary people who identify as neither exclusively male nor female.
The decision, which was entirely data-driven and announced Tuesday morning, came after searches of the word trended all year, according to the dictionary’s editors.
“Pronouns are among the language’s most commonly used words, and like other common words (think ‘go,’ ‘do,’ and ‘have’) they tend to be mostly ignored by dictionary users,” Emily Brewster, senior editor at Merriam-Webster, said in a statement. “But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the nonbinary use, we’ve seen searches for ‘they’ grow dramatically.”