American Dialect Society’s word of the year is ‘they’

The organization honored the singular use of the pronoun and gave a nod to acceptance of gender neutrality in language.

There’s no doubt that 2015 was a momentous year for the acceptance of gender differences. As proof, we can look to its presence in language.

The American Dialect Society announced its word of the year, and the gender-neutral singular pronoun “they” gets the honor.

There was a significant amount of attention paid to “they” during 2015. In writing or speech, it became the most proper pronoun to use when referring to a person who chooses to reject the traditional gender binary alternatives “he” and “she.”

The Washington Post made headlines when it used they as a singular pronoun for a source in one of its stories. It’s now part of the paper’s style guide.

“In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society said on the group’s website. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”

Grammarians have been quick to point out that the singular “they” was used in the King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Oscar Wilde.

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Why the move to make it the 2015 word of the year—instead of its closest competitors, “thanks,” “Obama” and “on fleek?”

The American Dialect Society says it’s about prominence, not newness:

Word of the year is interpreted in its broader sense as ‘vocabulary item’—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.

What do you think, Ragan readers—is “they” your choice for word of the year?

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