As the use of diverse gender pronouns gains mainstream attention, Merriam-Webster has joined the fight for gender equality.
The LGBTQ+ community, particularly the non-cis community, that is, those whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex, is currently celebrating a major win. In a monumental victory for non-binary folk, Merriam-Webster added the singular "they" as a pronoun to their dictionary, The Guardian reports. For far too long now, grammar snobs and transphobes have denied the use of "they" as a pronoun, claiming it ungrammatical. Now that a formal part of the system of language recognizes it as a valid pronoun, there is nothing the naysayers can do to refute its legitimacy.
As the oldest dictionary publisher in the United States, Merriam-Webster is leading the way forward when it comes to recognizing those who do not fall into neat but restrictive gender binary upheld by the status quo. Their move also predicates a future wherein gender is seen as existing on a spectrum, with a number of ways to identify, rather than as a binary. Hopefully, in enough time, more dictionaries will add the singular "they" as pronouns. Furthermore, this could mean that less popular, unconventional pronouns such as "ey" and "em" or "zie" and "zim" will also be added to dictionaries in due time (though that time should really be right away).
In a premeditated retort on their blog, Merriam-Webster wrote: We will note that "they" has been in consistent use as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s; that the development of singular "they" mirrors the development of the singular "you" from the plural "you," yet we don’t complain that singular "you" is ungrammatical; and that regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular "they" in casual conversation and often in formal writing. Moreover, Emily Brewster, a senior editor at the company, stated, "Merriam-Webster does not try to be at the vanguard of change in the language. [However], over the past few decades, there has been so much evidence that this is a fully established use of ‘they’ in the English language. This is not new."
The move has been deeply appreciated by those in the LGBTQ+ community, who believe that while the use of "they" has been legitimate for years now, Merriam-Webster has strengthened the fight for equality. Media relations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality Gillian Branstetter said, "Overall you’re seeing workplaces, schools, and hospitals recognize the current system of only offering ‘male’ and ‘female’ isn’t working for a lot of people." She then pointed to the addition of “they” in the AP Press Stylebook in 2017 as well as the fact that a total of 14 states now offer a third gender option on driver’s licenses.
The word "they" as a pronoun surged in popularity in 2015, when the American Dialect Society chose it as its word of the year. It gained traction a second time a mere two weeks ago when British singer and songwriter Sam Smith officially announced on social media that their preferred pronouns were "they" and "them." They had previously come out as genderqueer two years ago on October 2017. At the time, they stated, "I feel just as much a woman as I am a man." Hopefully, language and syntax will catch up to just how quickly the plane of gender and sexuality is changing in the modern world.