News & Opinion | December 10, 2019 10:07 am

Nonbinary Pronoun ‘They’ Named Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

The dictionary added a new definition explaining nonbinary 'they' in September

merriam-webster word of the year
Nonbinary "they" is Merriam-Webster's 2019 word of the year.
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Merriam-Webster has named its word of the year: “they.”

The monosyllabic pronoun — something of a departure from the dictionary’s last few picks, which in recent years have included abstract nouns and “isms” like “justice” and “feminism” — won the distinction for its increasing use as a singular, nonbinary pronoun among gender nonconforming individuals.

According to CNN, Merriam-Webster reported that searches for the term have risen by 313 percent in the last year.

“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,” said Merriam-Webster senior editor Emily Brewster 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.”

Merriam-Webster added the definition of “they” as a nonbinary pronoun to the dictionary back in September in response to “significant and sustained” searches for the term.

“People were clearly encountering this new use and turning to the dictionary for clarity and for usage guidance,” said Brewster.

But while the nonbinary sense of the word may be gaining increasing popularity right now, Merriam-Webster revealed evidence of such use dating back to 1950.

Other words that received high search volume this year include”quid pro quo,” “impeach,” “crawdad” and “egregious.”

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