Merriam-Webster selects ‘they’ as Word of the Year

May 27, 2020

By Bassem Yamout
Staff Writer

The word “they” was once known as a plural pronoun, but that is no longer the case. 

This article is part of The Lighthouse’s weeklong “The Power of Language” in-depth reporting series.

“They” is now commonly accepted as a singular pronoun that refers to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary as well as a person whose gender is unknown, unspecified or unrevealed. 

In fact, in December, Merriam-Webster even announced the pronoun “they” as its Word of the Year based on data indicating that searches for the definition of “they” on its website and apps increased by 313 percent in 2019 over the previous year.

Junior Emily Smith said gender pronouns are an important part of human interaction.

“They give [information] about [what] the person’s gender is and how they like to appear,” Smith said. 

Smith, who knows someone who identifies using they/them pronouns, said that person’s decision to use those pronouns should be respected.

“I don’t think [pronouns] should be eliminated, rather I believe that new pronouns should be embraced.”

Smith said even though gender pronouns matter, there are other important aspects of a person’s gender identity.

“Gender pronouns haven’t affected me much, dealing with dysphoria myself,” Smith said. “It wasn’t really the pronouns that made me dysphoric. It was my looks, voice, etcetera.” 

Junior GianCarlo Garcia said he supports people’s decisions to use they and them as singular pronouns.

“I don’t think [pronouns] should be eliminated, rather I believe that new pronouns should be embraced,” Garcia said.

He said all school faculty should receive training about how to interact with students who identify as nonbinary or use an alternative gender pronoun.

“I think it would be nice if my teachers and all teachers had a brief training session to properly identify their students,” Garcia said. “That’ll improve the environment of the classroom and make marginalized students feel more welcome.”

Junior Bartosz Balbuza said people tend to have an innate understanding of their own gender.

“Many studies have said gender identity develops at a very young age regardless of what the parents do,” Balbuza said.

He said Merriam-Webster did not need to make “they” the word of the year because it is not a new word. However, Balbuza said people should pay attention to the pronouns they use because misgendering is a serious problem. Misgendering is defined as “using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify.”

Balbuza said people should not be afraid to correct those who misgender a person. 

“Call it out when it happens,” Balbuza said. “Try to be respectful and identify when it’s done in bad faith. Everyone makes mistakes, but everyone can also change their ways.”    

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