Merriam-webster on Tuesday named the personal pronoun “they” as its word of the year, marking the growing use of the ancient plural personal pronoun to refer to individuals whose gender identity is not binary.
The dictionary says word of the year is chosen based on data: searches for “they” on merriam-webster’s website and app increased 313 percent in 2019 over the previous year. Last year’s word of the year was “justice”, while in 2017 it was “feminism”.
韦氏词典总编辑彼得·索科洛夫斯基(Peter Sokolowski)说，公众对词汇的兴趣通常是由重大新闻事件驱动的。今年其他一些获得了较高搜索量的词语包括quid pro quo(交换条件)和impeachment(弹劾)，这些都与政治头条新闻相关。
Peter Sokolowski, merriam-webster’s editor-in-chief, said public interest in words is often driven by big news events. Other terms that received high searches this year included quid pro quo and impeachment, all of which were linked to political headlines.
But it’s not often that practical terms like they get a buzz. It may reflect curiosity and confusion about the increasing use of pronouns from non-binary groups.
Many americans, especially older ones, are somewhat puzzled to find that they are used as singular personal pronouns. “For those who don’t keep up, they complain,” merriam-webster wrote in a blog post. “Using they as gender-neutral pronouns is ungrammatical because they are plural pronouns.”
But for individuals whose gender identity is not binary, being called “he” or “she” is not accurate. More than a third of American teenagers and 20-somethings know someone who USES gender-neutral pronouns, according to a Pew Research survey last fall. That’s twice as many as people in their 40s and three times as many as people in their 50s and 60s.
Efforts to justify other gender identities have triggered new pronouns on social media profiles and email signatures. Recently, some states and municipalities have added an “X” option to their identity documents for people who are not of the binary gender, an option previously limited to “M” (male) and “F” (female). In addition, lawmakers in at least six states have pushed for the use of the singular in judicial practice this year, according to the New York times.
Merriam-webster added a definition of singular personal pronouns to its entry for “they”, which refers to people of a non-binary gender, and noted that the use of the singular “they” to refer to non-binary individuals is increasingly common in publishing, editing and social media.
To elaborate on this, merriam-webster cites a recent New York times article:
周二，韦氏词典援引2019年的几则新闻来解释促使人们搜索they一词的好奇心。在众议院司法委员会的一次听证会上，议员普拉米拉·贾亚帕(Pramila Jayapal)表示，they是她孩子的代词。歌手山姆·史密斯(Sam Smith)宣布其代词是they和them。美国心理学会(American Psychological Association)建议在学术写作中使用单数形式的they来指代性别未知者，或那些自己使用they的人。
On Tuesday, merriam-webster cited several news stories from 2019 to explain the curiosity that drives searches for the word they. At a hearing of the house judiciary committee, lawmaker Pramila Jayapal said they were her children’s pronouns. The singer Sam Smith announced that his pronouns were they and them. The American Psychological Association recommends using the singular form “they” in academic writing to refer to people of unknown gender or to those who use them themselves.
What’s interesting about this, as a language lover, is that we’re seeing social factors directly influence the transformation of language, sokolowski said. “The effect is something we know intuitively, but rarely as clearly as we see in this case.”