Merriam-Webster’s last few selections for its Word Of The Year have been an interesting way to chart the psyche of the dictionary-using world, going from 2016's word “surreal,” 2017's “feminism,” and to last year’s “justice,” almost as if some inescapably bad situation has forced all of us to recognize how and why we need to fight back against darkness and oppression. We’re not sure what that could be, but it apparently trumps a lot of positive things that have happened in the last three years (har har). The word this year follows that trend, with Merriam-Webster announcing that its 2019 Word Of The Year is the nonbinary pronoun “they.”
As reported by CNN, searches for “they” rose by 313 percent in the last year, specifically spiking during Paris Fashion Week in January thanks to nonbinary model Oslo Grace, in April when US congresswoman Pramila Jayapal revealed that her child is gender-nonconforming, and in June during Pride Month, but this particular usage for it was only officially added in September. At the time, Merriam-Webster also noted that the use of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun goes back to at least the ‘50s, so anyone who objects to its use in this way is wrong.
A statement from Merriam-Webster explains that “people were clearly encountering this new use [of “they”] and turning to the dictionary for clarity and for usage guidance,” which means it was an important word culturally for 2019 and is a fitting word for M-W’s end-of-year honors. Other, similarly relevant contenders included “impeach,” “quid pro quo,” “crawdad,” and “egregious,” most of which are related to that big thing happening in the news. Or maybe they all are? The news cycle happens really fast these days, so there might be some quid pro quo involved in that huge crawdad impeachment scandal everyone’s talking about.
You can find more about these words and why they were chosen over at Merriam-Webster’s site.