Merriam-Webster reveals “They” as Word of the Year for 2019

  • Merriam-Webster chose “They” as the Word of the Year for 2019
  • The pronoun seemed appeared as the top lookup at Merriam-Webster
  • “They” gained an additional meaning as a gender-neutral singular pronoun

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2019 “They” has taken its spot as a top lookup. According to data in Merriam-Webster’s official press release, lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.

This may have been the consequence of shifting the use of the pronoun they, one of the most common term in the language. Merriam-Webster recently added meaning to this word. They can now be used as a term “to refer to a single person whose gender identity is non-binary.”

This can greatly help in eradicating the confusion of addressing a person whose gender is unknown or to a person who prefers they, a rising urgency in social media and personal interactions.

Singer Sam Smith’s admission as being a non-binary during an interview with Jameela Jamil also boosted searches for “they”. This happened in March before going on to change their pronouns to “they/them” in September.

A part of Smith’s lengthy statement said, “After a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out,” wrote Smith. “I’m so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I’ve been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but fuck it!”

“Pronouns are among the language’s most commonly used words, and like other common words (think to go, do, and have) they tend to be mostly ignored by dictionary users,” Merriam-Webster’s senior editor, Emily Brewster, said in a statement.

“But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the non-binary use, we’ve seen searches for they grow dramatically. In 2019 the increase in lookups for they was so significant and sustained that it stood out from all the other top lookups when we went to analyze the data.

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

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