Merriam-Webster Names Personal Pronoun 'They' Its 2019 Word Of The Year

The decision came after a 313% search increase on the company's website.
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NEW YORK (AP) 鈥 A common but increasingly mighty and very busy little word, 鈥渢hey,鈥 has an accolade all its own.

The language mavens at Merriam-Webster have declared the personal pronoun their word of the year based on a 313 percent increase in look-ups on the company鈥檚 search site, Merriam-Webster.com, this year when compared with 2018.

鈥淚 have to say it鈥檚 surprising to me,鈥 said Peter Sokolowski, a lexicographer and Merriam-Webster鈥檚 editor at large, ahead of Tuesday鈥檚 announcement. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a word we all know and love. So many people were talking about this word.鈥

Sokolowski and his team monitor spikes in searches and 鈥渢hey鈥 got an early start last January with the rise of model Oslo Grace on top fashion runways. The Northern Californian identifies as transgender nonbinary, walking in both men鈥檚 and women鈥檚 shows around the world.

Another look-up spike occurred in April, when U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, got emotional while talking of her gender-nonconforming child during a House committee hearing as she advocated for LGBTQ rights legislation.

Merriam-Webster recently added a new definition to its online dictionary to reflect use of 鈥渢hey鈥 as relating to a person whose gender identity is nonbinary. In October, the American Psychological Association endorsed 鈥渢hey鈥 as a singular third-person pronoun in its latest style guide for scholarly writing.

鈥淲e believe writers should try to use a person鈥檚 self-identified pronoun whenever feasible,鈥 said Jasper Simons, chief publishing officer for the APA. 鈥淭he singular 鈥榯hey鈥 is a way for writers to avoid making assumptions about gender when it is not known.鈥

The American Dialect Society, which is dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, named 鈥渢hey鈥 its word of the year for 2015, in recognition of its emergence among people who reject 鈥渉e鈥 and 鈥渟he.鈥

In September, Merriam-Webster experienced another big increase in look-ups for 鈥渢hey鈥漺hen pop star Sam Smith wrote on social media that their preferred pronouns were 鈥渢hey鈥 and 鈥渢hem.鈥 Smith said the decision came after a 鈥渓ifetime of being at war with my gender.鈥

Sokolowski told The Associated Press that 鈥渢hey,鈥 one of a handful of nonbinary pronouns to emerge in recent years, is 鈥渉ere to stay.鈥 Nick Adams, director of transgender representation for the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said Merriam-Webster鈥檚 choice is a positive step in acknowledging nonbinary people.

鈥淭here is a long road ahead before language, policy and culture are completely affirming and inclusive,鈥 Adams said.

And the Merriam-Webster runners-up?

They include 鈥渜uid pro quo,鈥 鈥渋mpeach鈥 and 鈥渃rawdad,鈥 the latter a word in the title of Delia Evans best-selling novel, 鈥淲here the Crawdads Sing.鈥 The Top 10 also included 鈥渆gregious,鈥 鈥渃lemency鈥 and 鈥渢he,鈥 a shocker of a look-up spike when The Ohio State University attempted to patent the word to protect its turf. It failed.

Also in the mix: 鈥渟nitty,鈥 which emerged on the lips of Attorney General William Barr in reference to a letter by Robert Mueller about a summary Barr wrote of the Mueller report.

We have Washington Post columnist George Will to thank for 鈥渢ergiversation.鈥 The word, meaning an evasion or a desertion, was Merriam-Webster鈥檚 top look-up on Jan. 24 after Will used it in a column in reference to Lindsey Graham.

The words 鈥渃amp鈥 and 鈥渆xculcate鈥 rounded out the Top 10 list.

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