M-W in Fighting Mode on One of Its New Words

'They' can now be used as a singular, gender nonbinary pronoun, per Merriam-Webster
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2019 7:25 AM CDT
M-W in Fighting Mode on One of Its New Words
This is no deep-state conspiracy: New words have been added.   (Getty Images/unclepodger)

"Deep state," "dad joke," and "escape room" may seem ubiquitous in our modern vernacular, but now they're officially part of it. Merriam-Webster has announced the addition of more than 500 words, terms, and new meanings, an etymological evolution it calls "a happy fact of life for a living language." The fresh inclusions come in, among others, the legal ("red flag law"), business and finance ("pain point"), and pop culture ("Bechdel test") categories, as well as via abbreviations and portmanteaus: "vacay," "sesh" (short for "session"), and "fatberg" have all made their entry into the dictionary's hallowed pages. One word garnering a special MW mention: the usually non-headline-making pronoun "they," which the dictionary now recognizes as a singular, gender nonbinary pronoun for those who don't identify as male or female.

Anticipating pushback on this particular addition, Merriam-Webster explains: "We will note that 'they' has been in consistent use as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s; that the development of singular 'they' mirrors the development of the singular 'you' from the plural 'you,' yet we don't complain that singular 'you' is ungrammatical; and that regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular 'they' in casual conversation and often in formal writing." A rep for the National Center for Transgender Equality tells the Guardian that this officially accepted modification suggests that many institutions now "recognize the current system of only offering 'male' and 'female' isn't working for a lot of people." There may be a learning curve: Out notes that the AP botched Sam Smith's recent announcement on preferring to use "they/them" as their personal pronouns. (More Merriam-Webster stories.)

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