It’s now official: Singular ‘they’ is OK

word count blog v1The official Word of the Year is singular “they.” As in, “I don’t know who the jerk is who did it, but I hope they get dragged.”

This is good news because most people have been using “they” like that for quite a while. Now that it has been officially sanctioned by the American Dialect Society, none of us who took English teachers seriously have to feel bad about it.

The Washington Post reports that 200 linguists chose the Word of the Year at the society’s annual meeting in Washington. The Post noted that although the usage is already common, there’s more to it than that.

… [W]hat gave this word new prominence was its usefulness as a way to refer to people who don’t want to be called “he” or “she.”

“We know about singular they already — we use it everyday without thinking about it, so this is bringing it to the fore in a more conscious way, and also playing into emerging ideas about gender identity,” said linguist Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who presided over the voting this Friday afternoon.

What tips the balance for such word usage to transition from seeming vaguely not OK to acceptable? It’s hard to say specifically, but when someone from The Wall Street Journal starts talking about “emerging ideas about gender identity” in anything but a snide, Jesse Helms way, you can be sure there’s been a tectonic shift in society and it’s time to get with it.

In a landslide vote, the language experts chose singular they over “thanks, Obama,” “ammosexual, “on fleek,” and other contenders for this annual award given to the most significant term or word in the past year.

“Thanks, Obama,” of course, needs no explanation. I use it myself any time, say, a cat throws up.

I had to look up the other two (I did guess correctly on “ammosexual”). In doing so, I found a piece from MTV on “10 words you should know in 2016.” They are worth knowing, but I’m not sure they’re all worth using. I am happy, though, about the broadened meaning for “drag.”


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