Each year, we look forward to hearing Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year, especially because the dictionary publisher has opted for timely and powerful choices in recent years. Based on 2017’s choice (“feminism”) to last year’s pick (“justice”), we had high hopes for the 2019 Word of the Year, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
This year, Merriam-Webster chose “they,” marking a significant milestone for the non-binary community, who continue to fight for equal rights to their men/women binary counterparts and acceptance of their correct pronouns, which don’t always align with the binary he/she.
Though “they” has been used as a non-binary pronoun for a long time, this year marked a significant shift in the cultural conversation. In fact, Merriam-Webster noted a 313% spike in searches of the word over the past year.
For those who don’t identify with masculine/feminine pronouns, it can feel dismissive and disrespectful when someone doesn’t use non-binary or gender-neutral language. Therefore, the inclusion of “they” as this year’s Word of the Year is a definite step in the right direction for a more inclusive culture overall.
In September, Merriam-Webster expanded the word’s definition in the dictionary, adding that “they” can also be used “to refer to a single person whose gender identity is non-binary.”
Other timely picks in Merriam-Webster’s top 10 words of the year are “impeach,” “clemency,” and “camp,” all reflecting news events of the past year—respectively, the move to impeach President Trump, sex-trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown’s release from prison in August, and the epic Met Gala theme of 2o19.
We hope that honoring “they” as the 2019 Word of the Year will help us inch towards true inclusion and equality for those that identify outside the gender binary. The more people research they/them pronouns, the better understanding society has about why they’re so important.