Merriam-Webster adds 'they' as a pronoun to the dictionary

Posted at 11:13 AM, Sep 19, 2019

Merriam-Webster announced Tuesday that they added more than 530 new words to the dictionary.

Some classics made the cut, including "dad joke" and "tallboy" as a reference to a can of beer. But one word in particular drew the attention of social media users: they.

The word "they" isn't a new word itself, obviously, but Merriam-Webster now includes the definition for the singular they, often used by people who identify as nonbinary.

"Most people — including most transgender people — are either male or female," according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. "But some people don't neatly fit into the categories of 'man' or 'woman,' or 'male' or 'female.' For example, some people have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman, or a gender that is different than either male or female. Some people don't identify with any gender. Some people's gender changes over time. People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common."

The new dictionary definition for this usage of "they" states it is "used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary."

Merriam-Webster provided an example to show how it works.

"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," the example reads. "They were in their late 20s, working as an event planner, applying to graduate school."

People on social media were quick to comment.

One person replied to Merriam-Webster on Twitter saying, "He is having a good time. She is having a good time. They is having a good time. Stupid."

But as one commenter pointed out, "they" is already often used by people in this sense.

"Don’t be obtuse," the Twitter user said. "When you find a lost hat, what do you say when you take it to lost and found? 'Someone lost their hat.' 'They' has always been accepted and used as a pronoun to indicate one person."

Here's some other words being added to the dictionary:

Deep state : an alleged secret governmental network operating extralegally

Red flag law : a law allowing courts to prevent people who show signs of being a danger to themselves or others from having access to firearms

Vacay : a shortening of vacation

Escape room : a game in which participants confined to a room or other enclosed setting are given a set amount of time to find a way to escape

Free solo : a climb in which a rock climber uses no artificial aids for support and has no rope or other safety equipment for protection in case of a fall

Inclusive : A new sense has been added: “allowing and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).”

Colorism : prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin

Bechdel test : refers to a set of criteria used to evaluate a movie or other work of fiction on the basis of its inclusion and representation of female characters

Coulrophobia : meaning “abnormal fear of clowns"