With the end of the year a mere 20 days away, Merriam-Webster has proclaimed the nonbinary pronoun ‘they’ as 2019’s word of the year as the word gains popularity as a gender neutral term for nonbinary individuals.
According to an article by the American English Dictionary, searches for the term have risen by 313% over the last year and had a new definition added in September.
“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,” Merriam-Webster wrote in an article announcing the word of the year on its website. “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.”
Searches for the term spiked several times in 2019, including when nonbinary model Oslo Grace appeared at January’s Paris Fashion Week, as well as when congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s statement back in April that her child was gender-nonconforming. Searches for the term also rose during June’s Pride celebrations. In September, British singer-songwriter Sam Smith asked to be referred to as they/them after he came out as nonbinary.
“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,” Emily Brewster, the senior editor at Merriam-Webster said. “But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the nonbinary use, we’ve seen searches for ‘they’ grow dramatically.”
Ten other words were considered for word of the year, including ‘Quid pro quo,’ after congress’ investigation into President Trump’s July 25 phone call with the newly-elected president of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky. Impeach was number two on the list, with searches on the word spiking after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Congress would open an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
In 2018, ‘Justice’ was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, while ‘feminism’ took the top spot in 2017.
According to Merriam-Webster, other popular words in 2019 included: