‘They’ Is the Phrase of the 12 months, Merriam-Webster Says, Noting Its Singular Rise

Merriam-Webster introduced the pronoun “they” as its phrase of the yr on Tuesday, marking the rise of using the venerable plural pronoun to seek advice from a single particular person whose gender id is nonbinary.

The phrase of the yr, the dictionary writer stated, relies on information: Searches for the definition of “they” on the writer’s web site and apps elevated by 313 p.c in 2019 over the earlier yr. Final yr’s phrase was “justice.” In 2017, it was “feminism.”

The general public’s curiosity in phrases is commonly pushed by main information occasions, stated Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster. Different phrases that generated excessive year-over-year comparisons this yr — “quid pro quo” and “impeachment” — are tied to political headlines.

However a surge of searches for the which means of a utilitarian phrase like “they” is much less widespread. It’s more likely to replicate each curiosity and confusion concerning the rising use of the pronoun for nonbinary people.

“A pronoun like ‘they’ is one of the building blocks of the language,” Mr. Sokolowski stated. “But with the nonbinary usage, people are sensing that it means something new or different, and they are going to the dictionary. When you see lookups for it triple, you know that ‘they’ is a word that is in flux.”

Many Individuals, particularly older ones, stumble over using “they” as a singular pronoun. “For those who haven’t kept up, the complaint is this,” Merriam-Webster wrote in an earlier blog post on the topic. “The usage of they as a gender-neutral pronoun (as in, ‘Ask every of the scholars what they need for lunch.’) is ungrammatical as a result of they is a plural pronoun.”

However for nonbinary people who determine as a gender aside from male or feminine, being known as “he” or “she” is inaccurate. Over a 3rd of Individuals of their teenagers and early 20s know somebody who makes use of gender-neutral pronouns, based on a Pew Research survey performed final fall. That’s double the variety of these of their 40s, and triple these of their 50s and 60s.

Efforts to destigmatize different gender identities have sparked the disclosure of pronouns on social media profiles and e-mail signatures. Some state and metropolis governments have not too long ago added an “X” possibility for nonbinary genders on state identification paperwork, which was restricted to the choices “M” and “F.” And amid efforts this yr in not less than six states to make the follow legislation, state legislators have been grappling with the singular “they,” The New York Times reported.

Merriam-Webster added the singular “they” for an individual with a nonbinary gender as a definition of the phrase in its dictionary, noting that using the singular “they” to seek advice from nonbinary people is more and more widespread in revealed, edited textual content, in addition to on social media.

As an example, the dictionary cited a passage from a latest Times article:

I knew sure issues about … the particular person I used to be interviewing … They had adopted their gender-neutral title a couple of years in the past, when they started to consciously determine as nonbinary — that’s, neither male nor feminine. They have been of their late 20s, working as an occasion planner, making use of to graduate college.

On Tuesday, Merriam-Webster cited a number of 2019 information occasions to elucidate the curiosity that seems to have pushed searches for “they.” Throughout a Home Judiciary Committee listening to, Consultant Pramila Jayapal famous that “they” is her youngster’s pronoun; the singer Sam Smith introduced that their pronouns are “they” and “them”; and the American Psychological Affiliation beneficial that singular “they” be utilized in tutorial writing to seek advice from an individual whose gender is unknown or who makes use of it.

“As a word lover, what’s interesting in this story is to see that social factors play so directly into language change,” Mr. Sokolowski stated. “That is something that we sort of know intuitively but we don’t often see it as clearly as we see it here.”

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