Merriam-Webster announced Tuesday that it has chosen “they” as the 2019 word of the year.
The singular “they” is a pronoun used to refer to a person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a word that itself was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary in September of this year. The gender-neutral pronoun is used in place of “he or she.”
Last month, Equally Wed’s Dyana Bagby reported that the American Psychological Association says using “they” as a singular third-person pronoun is now official APA Style, receiving praise from supporters and members of the LGBTQ+ and nonbinary communities who say the move is another step toward inclusivity for all people.
Equally Wed: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your LGBTQ+ Wedding uses “they” as a singular pronoun, which covers men, women, gender fluid, transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming individuals. The usage of “they” instead of “he or she” has been used in news outlets such as Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, but it’s not a modern occurrence by any means. “They” as a singular pronoun has been used for a least seven centuries, appearing in the work of writers from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Jane Austen.
As Merriam-Webster writes, “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.”
Despite the word’s long history, searches for “they” increased by 313% in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to Merriam-Webster.
When reading Merriam-Webster’s recap of its choice, please refrain from adopting its incorrect use of the phrase “preferred pronoun.” Pronouns aren’t preferred. They are true descriptors of the gender—or absence of—that the person identifies with. Using the adjective “preferred” implies that gender is a choice. And it isn’t. Living your authentic truth is a choice though, and we applaud anyone brave enough to do so.