According to the US dictionary, searches for the pronoun ‘they’ on Merriam-Webster increased by a whopping 313% this year. The word also had a new sense (‘non-binary’) added in September
It makes sense really; the pronoun ‘they’ is being used more and more because more non-binary and gender fluid people are using it to replace ‘he’ and ‘she’, publicly. There are also more people trying to educate themselves, too.
This week, the dictionary made the decision to recognise the word as this year’s word of the year, for these reasons.
A spokesperson for Merriam-Webster said:
“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. 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. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.
“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.
“More recently, though, they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is non-binary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers. There’s no doubt that its use is established in the English language, which is why it was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary this past September.”
Merriam-Webster went on to say that “non-binary they” was also considerably prominent in the news in 2019, pointing to celebrities like Sam Smith, who came out as non-binary in March and made their pronoun preferences clear to the general public in September.
In a time when it feels like acceptance and progression has hit somewhat of a stand-still, it’s nice to hear news like this, because essentially this means that more non-binary and gender fluid people are feeling comfortable enough to come out and declare their pronouns and preferences.
Lots of high-profile people have bravely chosen to come out as non-binary and gender fluid over the last couple of years – including Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness, model Oslo Grace and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Lachlan Watson – in a bid to show others that they should never be ashamed of how they identify. Better still, many of these celebrities have agreed to high-profile interviews to help educate the general public.
Arguably, Sam Smith was the biggest celebrity to declare that they identified as non-binary in 2019; an announcement that attracted a huge amount of attention (both good and bad, unfortunately). They famously wrote on social media:
‘I understand there will be many mistakes and misgendering, but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now.’
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Having worked in children's media and publishing for almost a decade, Ben is thoroughly excited to now be able to swear in stories and features. He is such a big fan of Disney and Horror films that he started an LGBTQ+ podcast called 'Once Upon A Scream'. His mum listens. You can contact Ben at [email protected] Twitter: @PulsfordBen / Instagram: @thebenmidlerFollow