Sep 18, 2019

Merriam-Webster adds "they" as a nonbinary pronoun

Photo: Handout/Getty Images

Merriam-Webster announced updates this week to its dictionary, adding 533 new words and meanings to its inventory, including the use of the word "they" as a singular, nonbinary pronoun.

Why it matters: A growing number of Americans don't identify as male or female and use "they" or "them," rather than traditional pronouns. Some states now allow people to have an "X" on their driver's license, rather than male or female. Merriam-Webster's move also weakens the common argument against the singular "they" — that it is grammatically incorrect.

Details: The new entry for "they" is the fourth sense of the word, "used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary."

Merriam-Webster uses the word in a sentence as an example:

"I knew certain things about … the person I was interviewing.… They had adopted their gender-neutral name a few years ago, when they began to consciously identify as nonbinary — that is, neither male nor female. They were in their late 20s, working as an event planner, applying to graduate school."

For the record: The style guide for NLGJA, the LGBTQ journalists association, defines nonbinary as: "...a person whose gender identity and/or expression is neither male nor female. Nonbinary individuals may identify as somewhere between male and female, or reject a binary categorization of gender altogether."

On the topic of identity, Merriam-Webster also announced a new sense to the word inclusive: “allowing and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).”

Some other newly added words:

  • Colorism
  • Deep state
  • Red flag law
  • Escape room
  • Dad joke
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