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Singular ‘they’ named word of the decade

Linguists have voted singular they the word of the decade for the 2010s.

The American Dialect Society made the decision to recognise the word’s increasing use as a personal pronoun, particularly for many non-binary people.

In this context, they is simply used in place of he or she – for example, “Alex said they dyed their hair.”

Singer Sam Smith and actor Asia Kate Dillon are among the non-binary celebrities who use they and them pronouns.

Singular they has also long been used as a gender-neutral pronoun for a person whose gender or pronouns are unknown – for example, “Someone dropped their phone.”

The American Dialect Society announced its word of the decade and word of the year at Friday’s annual meeting in New Orleans, The Guardian has reported.

Around 350 linguistics researchers and other language experts voted on the words.

Following the same theme, (my) pronouns was chosen as the word of the year.

The honour was a nod to the increasing practice of acknowledging gender diversity by introducing oneself with both name and pronouns, in correspondence such as email signatures, or in conversation – for example, “I’m Jesse, and my pronouns are he and him.”

People who are cis, trans, or non-binary may all choose to share their pronouns, and the practice is increasingly encouraged.

The American Dialect Society said the winning words were a reflection of “how the personal expression of gender identity has become an increasing part of our shared discourse”.

Singular they was also the society’s word of the year in 2015.

“People want to choose something that stands the test of time and sums up the decade as a whole,” said Ben Zimmer, a linguist and lexicographer who is the chair of the society’s new words committee.

The word of the decade captures matters of social significance, with web the winner for the 1990s and Google for the 2000s.

Other nominations for word of the decade for the 2010s included climate, #MeToo, and #BlackLivesMatter.

Among the nominations for the 2019 word of the year were OK boomer, Karen, and cancel.

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