Gender-neutral pronoun 'they' voted word of the decade

6 January 2020, 15:46

Singer Sam Smith came out as non-binary in September
Singer Sam Smith came out as non-binary in September. Picture: PA

The singular pronoun "they" has been voted word of the decade by linguists in the USA, who said it "embodied 2010 to 2020."

The term is used as a gender-neutral pronoun by many non-binary people.

The American Dialect Society said the word is a 'vital indicator of social trends'.

Voters also selected '(my) pronouns' - such as she/her, he/him or they/them as their word of the year in 2015 and 2019.

Chair of the American Dialect Society's new words committee, Ben Zimmer, said: "When a basic part of speech like the pronoun becomes a vital indicator of social trends, linguists pay attention. 

"The selection of '(my) pronouns' as Word of the Year speaks to how the personal expression of gender identity has become an increasing part of our shared discourse.

"That trend is also reflected in singular 'they' being chosen as word of the decade, with a growing recognition of the use of they for those whose identities don't conform to the binary of he and she."

The word of the decade was chosen by a group of linguists, etymologists, historians, writers and students at an annual meeting in Louisiana.

Past word of the year winners include 2017's "fake news" 2012's "hashtag" and 2009's "tweet". 

Sam Smith is referred to as "they"
Sam Smith is referred to as "they". Picture: PA

It comes after high profile figures, such as Sam Smith, helped bring the use of 'they' into the spotlight.

The singer wrote on their Instagram that they did not feel "male or female" but flows somewhere in between, and would therefore like their fans to refer to them as "they/them".

In a series of tweets, they wrote: "Today is a good day so here goes. I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out...

"I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*** it!

"I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you."