VIDEO: Merriam-Webster declares ‘they’ its 2019 word of the year

Declared word of year based on a 313-per-cent increase in look-ups on the company’s search site

A common but increasingly mighty and very busy little word, “they,” 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% increase in look-ups on the company’s search site, Merriam-Webster.com, this year when compared with 2018.

“I have to say it’s surprising to me,” said Peter Sokolowski, a lexicographer and Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, ahead of Tuesday’s announcement. “It’s a word we all know and love. So many people were talking about this word.”

Sokolowski and his team monitor spikes in searches and “they” 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’s and women’s 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 “they” as relating to a person whose gender identity is nonbinary. In October, the American Psychological Association endorsed “they” as a singular third-person pronoun in its latest style guide for scholarly writing.

“We believe writers should try to use a person’s self-identified pronoun whenever feasible,” said Jasper Simons, chief publishing officer for the APA. “The singular ‘they’ is a way for writers to avoid making assumptions about gender when it is not known.”

The American Dialect Society, which is dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, named “they” its word of the year for 2015, in recognition of its emergence among people who reject “he” and “she.”

READ ALSO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

In September, Merriam-Webster experienced another big increase in look-ups for “they”when pop star Sam Smith wrote on social media that their preferred pronouns were “they” and “them.” Smith said the decision came after a “lifetime of being at war with my gender.”

Sokolowski told The Associated Press that “they,” one of a handful of nonbinary pronouns to emerge in recent years, is “here to stay.” Nick Adams, director of transgender representation for the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, said Merriam-Webster’s choice is a positive step in acknowledging nonbinary people.

“There is a long road ahead before language, policy and culture are completely affirming and inclusive,” Adams said.

The AP Stylebook allows the use of “they”as a singular or gender-neutral pronoun in some cases.

And the Merriam-Webster runners-up to word of the year?

They include “quid pro quo,” “impeach” and “crawdad,” the latter a word in the title of Delia Evans bestselling novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing.” The Top 10 also included “egregious,” “clemency” and “the,” a shocker of a look-up spike when Ohio State University attempted to patent the word to protect its turf. It failed.

Also in the mix: “snitty,” 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 “tergiversation.” The word, meaning an evasion or a desertion, was Merriam-Webster’s top look-up on Jan. 24 after Will used it in a column in reference to Lindsey Graham.

The words “camp” and “exculcate” rounded out the Top 10 list.

Leanne Italie, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is warning customers of a confirmed case of COVID-19 on WestJet flight 195 from Calgary into Victoria on Oct. 11. Passengers seated between rows one and seven should self-minotor for symptoms for the next 14 days. (Black Press Media file photo)
Confirmed COVID case on WestJet flight day after previous exposure on same route

BCCDC warning passengers seated in rows one to seven on WestJet flight 195 on Oct. 11 into Victoria

Steven Puhallo, Jordan Carr, and Taylor Verrall, members of Rishi Sharma’s campaign team, show their solidarity with Sharma (second from right) after an unidentified man hurled racial slurs at him Saturday. Puhallo and Verrall were also present during the incident Saturday night at the corner of Marigold Road and Interurban Road. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
BC Liberal candidate in Saanich South attacked with racial slurs

Rishi Sharma was putting up election signs when incident happened Saturday night

Michael Friesen, 38, is a Caucasian man standing 6’1” and weighing approximately 220 pounds. (VicPD handout)
VicPD seeking man believed to be ‘actively evading police detection’

Michael Friesen wanted on an unendorsed warrant for various offences

Saanich police are warning residents to be aware of a non-aggressive bear sighting in the 400-block of Haliburton Terrace. (Black Press Media file photo)
Non-aggressive bear spotted in Saanich neighbourhood

Saanich police advise residents to be aware of sighting in the 400-block of Haliburton Terrace

Downtown Sidney has been a hot bed of residential construction, with new housing starts through the first nine months of 2020 reaching 211. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Langford, Colwood, Sidney lead region in housing starts

Sidney ahead of Saanich and Victoria with Langford leading all municipalities with 885 units

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. Conservative party leader leader Trevor Bolin was surrounded by party candidates at a Langley press conference held near a former interurban power station on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: B.C. Conservative leader says Liberals should come at him over policy, not an old workplace complaint

Rivals released WorkSafe report that found an employee at Tyler Bolin’s business was unfairly fired

Employee Sophia Lovink shows off a bag of merchandise in Toronto on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Canada gets C-average grade on 2nd year of cannabis legalization

Cannabis Council of Canada releases report card on federal government and legalization

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. suburbs could see increased demand for rental units as people work from home

Vancouver’s average monthly rent is the highest out of 35 cities across Canada

Fort St. John councillor Trevor Bolin (B.C. Conservative Party)
BC Conservatives leader fights back after BC Liberals leak 2018 workplace harassment case

Sexual harassment case was connected to employee being terminated, WorkSafeBC found

The BC Ferries vessel the Queen of Oak Bay. (News Bulletin file photo)
‘Buy a boat,’ Horgan advises anti-maskers on BC Ferries

NDP leader John Horgan talks COVID-19 misinformation

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States are being extended until at least Nov. 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Non-essential travel restrictions at Canada-U.S. border extended to at least Nov. 21

The restrictions do not apply to those providing essential services in either country

The BC Ferries vessel the Queen of Alberni. (News Bulletin file photo)
UPDATE: More sailings cancelled after ferry breaks down

Queen of Alberni out of commission, BC Ferries revises schedules

Most Read