Gender-Neutral ‘They’ Is The Word Of The Decade
In 2019, ‘they’ was recognised by Merriam-Webster as a singular, non-binary pronoun. Now, it’s been named Word of the Decade.
The American Dialect Society made its decision on Friday, January 3, in New Orleans.
As well as ‘they’ being Word of the Decade, the society also selected ‘(my) pronouns’ – such as she/her, he/him or they/them – as its Word of the Year for 2019.
In its traditional form, the word was used as a plural – however, its additional definition was added to the online dictionary last year to ‘address the complex ways we view ourselves and others and how we all fit in’.
Ben Zimmer, chair of the American Dialect Society’s New Words Committee, said, as per the Mirror Online:
When a basic part of speech like the pronoun becomes a vital indicator of social trends, linguists pay attention. The selection of ‘(my) pronouns’ as Word of the Year speaks to how the personal expression of gender identity has become an increasing part of our shared discourse.
That trend is also reflected in singular ‘they’ being chosen as word of the decade, with a growing recognition of the use of they for those whose identities don’t conform to the binary of he and she.
According to the society’s website, the Word of the Year can be any word or phrase that has been particularly notable – for example, the pronouns beat out ‘ok boomer’, referred to as a ‘retort to someone older expressing out-of-touch or condescending views’.
Back when ‘they’ was recognised as a singular pronoun, the dictionary wrote on its blog:
We will note that ‘they’ has been in consistent use as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s; that the development of singular ‘they’ mirrors the development of the singular ‘you’ from the plural ‘you’, yet we don’t complain that singular ‘you’ is ungrammatical; and that regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular ‘they’ in casual conversation and often in formal writing.
In September 2019, British singer-songwriter Sam Smith announced they were changing their pronouns to ‘they/them’ as opposed to ‘he/him’. ‘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. Thank you,’ they wrote on Twitter.
Due to the ongoing controversy of Donald Trump’s impeachment and the Ukraine scandal, ‘quid pro quo’ was named Political Word of the Year.
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