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‘THEY’ is the word of the decade

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LOUISIANA—JAN. 3— Singular “they” was recognised by the American Dialect Society as its Word of the Decade (2010-2019) voted in its 30th annual words of the year vote, while “(my) pronouns” used as an introduction for sharing someone’s personal pronouns was voted as the Word of the Year (2019).

“(Mypronouns” was recognised for its use as an introduction for sharing one’s set of personal pronouns (as in “pronouns: she/her”), while singular “they” was recognised for its growing use to refer to a known person whose gender identity is nonbinary. Singular “they” was previously selected by the ADS as the 2015 Word of the Year.

British singer Sam Smith made the pronoun “they” more widely recognised when in September 2019, Smith announced they were changing their pronouns to “they/them.” Smith said, “After a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out.”

“When a basic part of speech like the pronoun becomes a vital indicator of social trends, linguists pay attention,” said Ben Zimmer, chair of the American Dialect Society’s New Words Committee and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

“The selection of “(my) pronouns” as Word of the Year speaks to how the personal expression of gender identity has become an increasing part of our shared discourse, said Zimmerman.

“That trend is also reflected in singular “they” being chosen as Word of the Decade, with a growing recognition of the use of they for those whose identities don’t conform to the binary of he and she.”

The American Dialect Society states that “the Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.”

The two awards, the results of the longest-running such vote anywhere, and the only one not tied to commercial interests, were decided by 350 members of the 131-year old society at its annual meeting. It was chosen by academics, linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars on Friday in New Orleans.  

In a companion vote, sibling organisation the American Name Society voted “Arrokoth” (the name of a far-flung minor planet) as Name of the Year for 2019 in its fifteenth annual name-of-the-year contest.

Other finalists for Word of the Decade (2010-2019)

WINNERthey: gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person, particularly as a nonbinary identifier (“they,” “them,” themself”)

2nd placememe: a shared cultural item in the form of a phrase, image, or video circulated online, often with humorous, creative alterations

BlackLivesMatter: expression of protest over police violence against African Americans

climate: used in phrases related to the impact of climate change, including “climate crisis,”
“climate emergency,” and “climate strike”

emoji: small icon in electronic communication, used to convey information or emotional
attitude, or as a playful substitution for words

MeToo: expression of solidarity for women surviving sexual assault or harassment (coined by Tarana Burke)

opioid crisis: epidemic of opioid-related drug overdoses across the U.S. 1

selfie: a photograph that one takes of oneself, typically with a digital camera and shared on social media

woke: socially aware, especially about issues of racial and social justice (also used
negatively to mock ostensibly enlightened attitudes)

Other finalists for Word of the year (2019)

WINNER – (my) pronouns: introduction for sharing one’s set of personal pronouns (“pronouns:
she/her”)
2nd PLACE – ok boomer: retort to someone older expressing out-of-touch or condescending views
cancel: withdraw support from someone considered problematic or unacceptable
Karen: stereotype of a complaining, self-important white woman, typically a member of
Generation X (also “Generation Karen”)

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