The personal pronoun “They” was bestowed the title of the word of the year last Tuesday by Merriam-Webster dictionary.
This honorarium was partly due to a 313% increase in lookups of they over the previous year. But if the increase alone was the deciding factor number 2 “quid pro quo” with twice the lookups would have taken top honors, not to mention number 8 Tergiversation with a 39,000% increase!
*Some music for all you they’s to enjoy while reading because why not? We’re celebrating!
They ain’t no small beans.
It seems the choice was mainly because of the increased usage of they as a personal pronoun as indicative of society’s evolving understanding of gender.
They have been around for 6 centuries but without recognition.
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, writes Merriam-Webster.
(They sure are creating havoc with my editor)
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. 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.
Nonbinary they was also prominent in the news in 2019. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA) revealed in April during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act that her child is gender-nonconforming and uses they. Singer Sam Smith announced in September that they now prefer they and them as their third person personal pronouns. And the American Psychological Association’s blog officially recommended that singular they be preferred in professional writing over “he or she” when the reference is to a person whose gender is unknown or to a person who prefers they. It is increasingly common to see they and them as a person’s pronouns in Twitter bios, email signatures, and conference nametags.
They have won the day! Battles well fought they! Congratulations!