Merriam-Webster announced this past Tuesday that their word of the year is they, an all-inclusive pronoun that refers to people who don’t identify as male or female. Merriam-Webster and its users have kept up this trend for the past few years, particularly in terms of social justice. 2017’s word of the year was feminism and 2018’s was justice. In the words of Merriam-Webster,
“…they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers.”
The LGBT+ community has been using this term for a long time, but it recently caught the attention of the general public when singer Sam Smith announced that he prefers they/them pronouns earlier this year. Other non-binary or genderqueer celebrities include Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’s Ezra Miller, Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness, and 13 Reasons Why star Tommy Dorfman.
Words of the year are selected from a list of the most frequently searched words in Merriam-Webster’s database. Many of these relate to politics, either in definition or context. Their runner-up is quid pro quo and second runner-up impeached.
The list also includes words like snitty, or which rose 150,000% in popularity in May when it was used by American Attorney General William Barr to describe a letter written to him by American Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Most curiously, Merriam-Webster has listed the as result of The Ohio State University filling a patent for the word.
“Very common words are looked up frequently in the dictionary (love is among the top five lookups in the history of our site), which is sometimes surprising to people, but it’s truly rare to see one of the most basic function words in the English language spike in our data.”
The response on social media was very positive considering the context.
<) )╯ They
\( (> is
<) )╯ a valid pronoun
/ \ https://t.co/dgydfROu1q
— Planned Parenthood Texas Votes (@PPTXVotes) December 11, 2019
I unknowingly helped define “they” — @MerriamWebster‘s 2019 Word of the Year.
A blurb from a brief I wrote earlier this year is quoted in the dictionary as a prime example of using “they” to refer to “a single person whose gender is intentionally not revealed.” pic.twitter.com/GSrMOfEFb5
— Olivia Krauth (@oliviakrauth) December 11, 2019
merriam-webster’s word of the year is “they!” as someone who has memorized the spelling of every word in MWIII and also refers to themselves as “they,” i can’t complain.
— A Rao 💛💜🖤 (@ARao_archdisc) December 10, 2019
Words by Kieran Mehra