Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year 2019 is ‘They’

Merriam-Webster has revealed its 2019 Word of the Year!

The dictionary made the announcement on Tuesday (December 10) that the nonbinary personal pronoun “they” is the official word of the year.

It was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary this past September, and lookups reportedly increased by 313 percent in 2019 over the previous 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,” Merriam-Webster senior editor Emily Brewster said in a statement to CNN. “But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the nonbinary use, we’ve seen searches for ‘they’ grow dramatically.”

As English does not have a gender-neutral singular pronoun, “they” is the word that has been used for this purpose. The new definition of “they” (among over 530 words added to the dictionary in September) reads: “Used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.”

The nonbinary “they” was featured heavily in the news in 2019. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal announced in April during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act that her child is gender-nonconforming and uses they. Singer Sam Smith also revealed in September that they now go by they and them as pronouns.

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

Other words of the year have included justice, feminism, surreal, and -ism. Other words and phrases included in this year’s top 10 are quid pro quo, impeach, crawdad, egregious, clemency, the (after The Ohio State University filed a trademark application with the U.S. patent office), snitty, tergiversation, camp, and exculpate.

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