The Merriam-Webster dictionary has named the personal pronoun “they” as the word of the year for 2019. The pronoun can be used to refer to a person of non-binary gender identity.
Earlier this year, the publisher announced that three new words related to transgender issues were being added to the dictionary: gender nonconforming, top surgery, and bottom surgery. The gender-neutral pronoun (along with “themself”) was also added this year.
The dictionary notes that searches for “they” increased by 313% in 2019 because of its increased usage as a singular, gender neutral pronoun.
“English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence, ‘they’ has been used for this purpose for over 600 years,” Merriam-Webster said in their announcement.
The dictionary is constantly updated to keep up with how American English is evolving. A new word gets added if editors find evidence of “frequent use, widespread use, and meaningful use” of the word.