Merriam-Webster dictionary adds gender-neutral ‘they’ pronoun

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Merriam-Webster gave the use of “they” as a nonbinary, gender neutral pronoun this certain whiff of linguistic authority by adding the definition to the dictionary in their most recent batch of additions.

The announcement was made on Twitter and certain people predictably lost their shit. But as Merriam-Webster acknowledged, the definition reflects an increasingly common usage of the “singular they.”

A recent study has shown that usage of the singular “they” has a welcome side-effect: It boosts positive attitudes towards women and queer people.

The dictionary’s senior editor Emily Brewster told the Guardian, “Merriam-Webster does not try to be at the vanguard of change in the language. Over the past few decades, there has been so much evidence that this is a fully established use of ‘they’ in the English language. This is not new.”

In a blog post, the authors of the dictionary addressed critics who argue that using “they” to describe one person is grammatically incorrect, which includes many right-wingers who seem to only care about grammar when it comes to the pronouns queer people choose to identify themselves with:

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.

It’s not quite as newfangled as it seems: we have evidence in our files of the nonbinary they dating back to 1950, and it’s likely that there are earlier uses of the nonbinary pronoun they out there.


Comments 4

  1. This shows that DICTIONARIES are as political as religion. THEY are as failures thusly. THEY force us to accept the their notes as complete. Please understand this one’s warning ===> DICTION is not DEFINITION.
    — The diction of ‘fuck’ is way older than the 1968 inclusion of it in a dictionary. There is no fucking definition of ‘fuck’. There are many dictions.
    — The notion that there is a third sex seems to be absurd with the absence of progeny of that third sex. — Please realize that 1948 Nobel Prize goes to the inventor of ice pick lobotomy. This is after the NAZI doctors play with their patients and after the Japanese doctors give pig blood infusions to prisoners of war.

  2. I can accept someone employing the “royal we” when speaking on behalf of a company or a group, but I have no enthusiasm for relearning pronouns for individuals. You will be addressed according to your perceived binary gender (if that’s even discernable). If there’s something else going on between your ears, that’s for you to resolve, not me.

    The LGB community has successfully achieved a steadily increasing level of acceptance in society – exceptions exist, of course, but for the “T”s” to catch up, they’re going to have to stop making it difficult, and burdening otherwise willing folks with problematic, selfish affectations. Maybe a generation or two hence the ‘singular they’ may enjoy common usage, but for now, K.I.S.S.

  3. I look forward to finally decoupling gender from pronouns. There’s no reason why the two need to be linked.

    However, if “they” is to be used for an individual, I expect it to be “they is.”

  4. There no such thing as race nor gender, biologically. If you know different, tell that to the forensic anthropologists. RACE and GENDER is for eye witness accounts, As possible. Historic descripts of bodies white and black exist. The history of slavery is not racial.
    — The “THEY” and the “THEM” is each also a short hand word for the COPS and the POLICE. .

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