London: Owing to its recent publicity as a non-binary gender pronoun, the word ‘they’ has been named Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. Simply put, the singular ‘they’ is a pronoun used to refer to a person whose gender identity is non-binary, meaning people who identify as neither male nor female.
The American English dictionary revealed that the word of the year, is based on data as searches for the definition of ‘they’ on the publisher’s website and apps increased by 313 percent in 2019 as compared to 2018. The word was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary in September of this year itself.
One of the reasons for the popularity of this word can be due to the fact that a high-profile celebrities came out as non-binary figures this year. In September only, Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Sam Smith announced their decision to use gender neutral pronouns.
In a statement, the dictionary said, ”It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term – a personal pronoun – can rise to the top of our data. Although our look-ups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of ‘they’ has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years. 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.”
Other words which were highly searched this year were were ‘quid pro quo,’ ‘impeach’ based on the ongoing impeachment hearings into US President Donald Trump.
Last year’s word was ‘justice’ and in 2017, it was ‘feminism’, preceded by ‘surreal’ in 2016.