"They," is Merriam-Webster's word of the year, the company reported Tuesday.
The word's use has increased in connection with the transgender community, many of whom prefer the gender-neutral pronoun "they," instead of "he" or "she." Merriam-Webster this year added a new definition of "they" to its dictionary online, reflecting this usage of the word. The newest style guide of the American Psychological Association also recognizes this usage.
More recently, though, they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers.
Nonbinary they was also prominent in the news in 2019. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA) revealed in April during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act that her child is gender-nonconforming and uses they. Singer Sam Smith announced in September that they now use they and them as pronouns. And the American Psychological Association's blog officially recommended that singular they be preferred in professional writing over "he or she" when the reference is to a person whose gender is unknown or to a person who prefers they. It is increasingly common to see they and them as a person's preferred pronouns in Twitter bios, email signatures, and conference nametags.
"They" saw a threefold increase in lookups on merriam-webster.com over 2018, according to the company.