Word of the Year 2019: for Merriam-Webster it’s ‘they’

December 18, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

The Oxford English Dictionary folks have had their say. Now, it’s the turn for the Merriam-Webster crew to weigh in.

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Year for 2019 is they.

It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term—a personal pronoun—can rise to the top of our data. Although our lookups 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. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.

English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singularpronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years. Source: Word of the Year 2019 | They | Merriam-Webster

So be it.

“They” has been appropriated for singular reference for many years, and as a former writing teacher, I have corrected many a “they” for the more proper “he or she.” I’m out of that game now, but it’s still difficult for me to use “they” for a single entity.

This is, of course, just another instance of the world marching past me.

The article linked above also contains other words that have had the most look-ups this year — some surprising, such as “crawdad” and some not so much, such as “quid pro quo.”

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