A recent win for progressives may give grammar pedants pause. Gender-neutral pronoun “they” was declared Word of the Year in a landslide vote by the American Dialect Society earlier this month. The annual award is given to the most significant term or word in the past year.
Singular “they” is already a common habit in American speech today. In fact, The Washington Post officially adopted it in its style guide in 2015. For example, you could write, “Everyone wants their own voice to be heard,” though earlier grammar rules dictate that this should be, “Everyone wants his or her own voice to be heard.”
On their decision, the society of linguists, lexicographers and grammarists stated:
They was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she.
The official recognition of this term and its usage can be categorized as a win for gender neutrality. A singular “they” can be used to refer to anyone, transgender or cisgender, who doesn’t prefer gendered pronouns “he” or “she.”
According to Marilyn Moyer, director/editor and writing coach here at PadillaCRT:
“They” has been used as a singular pronoun in spoken English for at least a century, as the linguists pointed out in justifying their decision. And changes in conversational speech – including the introduction of new words and new uses for old words – help drive the constant evolution of modern language. The examples are endless, from bling and bromance, to muffin top and baby bump. Old conventions often are discarded as well. Think about it: Shakespeare is considered the greatest writer in the English language, but Hamlet’s words and syntax hardly resemble the way we speak today.
Like language, our culture is also constantly evolving, and I’m pleased to be a part of a culture that is increasingly inclusive. Here’s to another step forward for the LGBTQIA community, allies and progressives alike.