Nonbinary Pronoun 'They' Is Merriam-Webster's 2019 Word of the Year

Cheryl Sanders
December 12, 2019

A search for the word they on Merriam-Webster's website turns up definitions for the personal pronoun, which saw a massive spike in lookups this year over last.

Merriam-Webster stated that searches for the term "they" had significantly risen by 313 per cent in 2019.

"The shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years, and especially in the past year", Sokolowski said in a video announcing the word of the year.

In the English language, more and more people are exercising their right to choose the pronoun by which they are identified, regardless of their sex at birth - such as "they" instead of "she" or "he".


In September, Merriam-Webster expanded the definition of "they" as relating to a person whose gender identity is non-binary.

The selection is determined by data and must have been a top lookup at Merriam-Webster.com in the past twelve months.

The Merriam-Webster has selected "they" as the 2019 word of the year, referring to the neutral pronoun favored by those who identify as gender non-binary.

Nonbinary they was also prominent in the news in 2019.


And in September of this year, Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Sam Smith announced their decision to use gender neutral pronouns.

Merriam Webster says the word of the year victor is determined by data.

Some of the other contenders for the word or phrase of the year included "quid pro quo", "impeach", "crawdad", and "egregious". 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. Other words and phrases included in this year's top 10 are quid pro quo, impeach, crawdad, egregious, clemency, the (after The Ohio State University filed a trademark application with the USA patent office), snitty, tergiversation, camp, and exculpate. "Through the dictionary, we see proof that words matter, whether we are discussing national politics or personal identity".


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