In its batch of updated words for September, 2019, the world-famous Merriam-Webster dictionary added more than 530 new words, as well as a new use case for the word they, which can now also be used as a singular, nonbinary pronoun. It seems like an important use case for Merriam-Webster to add to they, as well as one we needed to fill in an already existing gap in available language that accurately describes the world.
The nonbinary pronoun ‘they’ has been added to the dictionary. https://t.co/tadl1VdfB0
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) September 17, 2019
Merriam-Webster noted in a recent post that the singular, nonbinary they was added to the dictionary simply because it met the criteria for which words and uses should be added. According to Merriam-Webster, the singular, nonbinary use of they has “meaningful use, sustained use, and widespread use,” which means it necessarily belongs in the dictionary. The singular, nonbinary use of they also has “a clear meaning…. [and is] found in published text, in transcripts, and in general discourse…” which further buttresses the argument for adding the term.
To be clear, “they” as a singular pronoun was already in the dictionary and in very common use (since the 1300s). The new dictionary addition is just pointing out that it’s also frequently used specifically for non-binary people. https://t.co/DFLaf9GMvi
— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) September 18, 2019
What makes the additional usage even more interesting is the fact that people have apparently used they as a singular pronoun since the 14th century. Merriam-Webster noted in a post related to the announcement of the new use of they that “the development of singular they mirrors the development of the singular you from the plural you” and that “regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular they in casual conversation and often in formal writing.”
As a linguist and just general decent person, let me just say that we really don’t need to wait until the dictionary adds singular “they” (or latinx or any other language innovation) for it to be valid and for people’s identities to be respected.
— Dr. Ann M. Aly (@AnnMAlyy) September 18, 2019
It also turns out that Merriam-Webster has been looking for a singular, nonbinary pronoun for “quite a while now”; thanks to the fact that it already has a long history of usage as a singular pronoun, they works perfectly. This means that if you’ve had some trouble adjusting to the usage of they as a singular pronoun, you can now rest assured that it is not only grammatically correct, but also a solve for a distinctive language problem that’s been around for a while.
What do you think of Merriam-Webster’s newly added use case for the word they? Let us know your (grammatically correct) thoughts in the comments!
Feature image: Trevor