gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ is word of the year

A nod to the transgender and gender-fluid communities and a sign of how language can evolve with the world around us.

by Wendy Syfret
07 October 2016, 1:10pm

In the past couple of years, the lives and experiences of non-binary individuals have become increasingly visible across facets of media and community. The ongoing effort to dismantle rigid gender confines has changed the way we view each other, as well as how we speak. While individuals have always chosen to be referred to as they, rather than associating themselves with a gender through the use of he or she, this year the choice has sparked global debate. Many see the right to choose how you're spoken about as a basic right, while others — such as Canadian academic Jordan Peterson — have argued it's a sign of rampant political correctness. Most people thankfully recognize it as a positive shift, with many universities introducing policies to allow students to more easily dictate how they're referred to in class.

And now critics of they have been dealt another blow, the pronoun has been named as 2016's Word of the Year in a landslide vote by over 200 linguists during the American Dialect Society's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. They did specify they're referring to its use as a way to refer to people who don't want to be associated to a particular gender. The Wall Street Journal's language columnist Ben Zimmer explained: "We know about singular they already — we use it everyday without thinking about it, so this is bringing it to the fore in a more conscious way, and also playing into emerging ideas about gender identity." He also noted it was a positive sign of how wider culture has made efforts to be more inclusive of the transgender and gender fluid community.

For the record, they beat out fleek for the honor. We think they made the right choice.


Text Wendy Syfret
Image via Wikipedia

Word of the Year
gender fluid