We love words here at Xyza, especially when there’s a story behind them, which is why we’re a bit nerdy about Word of the Year announcements. Well, it’s December, and that means Merriam-Webster Dictionary has announced the new Word of the Year for 2019: They!
They might seem like a simple word, but its meaning has evolved. Historically, the word has been used to refer to two or more people or things, but they has taken on another usage to refer to a person whose gender identity is non-binary, which means they don’t identify as either she or he. The English language lacks a gender-neutral pronoun, but as more people choose not to identify with the man or woman gender, the need for a pronoun that can describe them has grown. Celebrities like Sam Smith and Amandla Stenberg have declared that they are gender-fluid and would prefer to be addressed as they instead of she or he.
How does a dictionary determine which word will be Word of the Year? Well, it depends on the dictionary that produces the list. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary bases its list on the popularity of words. To determine that, they look at internet word searches. They, for example, saw a 300 percent increase in searches in 2019 over 2018! The Oxford Dictionary does things slightly differently; they choose a Word of the Year for the United Kingdom and one for the United States (yes, they are different!).
Here are the most popular words in the past five years according to each dictionary.
Oxford: Climate Emergency, Toxic, Youthquake, Post-Truth, Face With Tears of Joy
Merriam-Webster: They, Justice, Feminism, Surreal, -ism
Which words are your favorites?