Famed dictionary company Merriam-Webster has announced its much-anticipated word of the year. The winner? “They.” In a statement, the organization said the term was the most looked-up word of the year due to its newfangled association with those who identify as gender non-binary.
“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,” the company explained.
“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.”
Earlier this year, British pop singer Sam Smith came out as gender non-binary and announced that his pronouns are now “they/them.”
“I understand there will be many mistakes and misgendering,” Smith wrote on Instagram. “But all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now.”
Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told the Associated Press that searches for the term skyrocketed after a number of celebrity figures announced their gender-neutrality, including model Oslo Grace and Amandla Stenberg. “It’s a word we all know and love,” Sokolowski said. “So many people were talking about this word.”
The company added that the winning word “reflects a surprising fact,” namely that “even a basic term—a personal pronoun—can rise to the top of our data.”
In October, the American Psychological Association approved “they” as a singular third-person pronoun…