Why ‘they’ is the word of the year

word of the year, they, non-binary pronoun, Merriam-Webster, Indian Express news

Merriam-Webster stated that searches for the term 'they' had significantly risen by 313 per cent in 2019. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

What's in a word? Everything. A whole history, an entire story, an enduring legacy. Keeping with this, American English dictionary Merriam-Webster decided to recognise the non-binary pronoun 'they' as its word of the year for 2019.

In September this year, the word had officially been added to the dictionary, along with 533 other words including 'deep state', 'escape room', 'Bechdel test', 'dad joke', 'colorism', to name a few. In the same month, British singer and songwriter Sam Smith, who identifies as a non-binary person, insisted on being referred to as 'they/them'.

Earlier this year, non-binary model Ayesha Tan-Jones made news for silently protesting Gucci's use of straitjackets during the Milan Fashion Week. They had shared a video from the show on Instagram and written, “As an artist and a model who has experienced my own struggles with mental health, as well as family members and loved ones who have been affected by depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia, it is hurtful and insensitive for a major fashion house such as Gucci to use this imagery as a concept for a fleeting fashion moment.”

A slew of other prominent non-binary celebrities also made headlines. For instance, in January, model Oslo Grace spoke about their gender identity in the fashion world.

Citing reasons behind its decision, Merriam-Webster stated that searches for the term 'they' had significantly risen by 313 per cent in 2019. Senior editor Emily Brewster said in a statement that pronouns are among the language's most commonly used words, and like other common words (go, do, and have) they tend to be mostly ignored by dictionary users. "But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the nonbinary use, we've seen searches for 'they' grow dramatically," she said.

Besides 'they', other words that were widely searched in 2019 were: 'quid pro quo', 'impeach', 'crawdad' and 'egregious'. In 2018, Merriam-Webster's word of the year was 'justice'.