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Merriam-Webster: Gender-Neutral 'They' Is the Word of 2019


The venerated dictionary noted that "English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun." 

Merriam-Webster named the gender-neutral pronoun "they" its word of the year for 2019, adding that searches for the pronoun increased by 313 percent over the previous year.

Merriam-Webster, a dictionary publisher founded in 1812, added the singular "they" to its vernacular earlier this year but also chose it over terms like "quid pro quo" (up 644 percent from last year) as its word of 2019.

"Our Word of the Year for 2019 is they. It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term--a personal pronoun--can rise to the top of our data," the word source writes in an announcement. "Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years."

"English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years," the dictionary writes.

"More recently, though, 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."

Finally, Merriam-Webster details how the use of "they" as a singular pronoun has risen in discourse over the year, with Sam Smith coming out as nonbinary and declaring their use of the word, as well as Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal opening up about her gender-nonconforming child who uses the pronoun.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist