Merriam-Webster dictionary lists ‘they’ as word of 2019 after 300 per cent rise in searches

The American English dictionary Merriam-Webster has listed "they" as its word of the year after a 300 per cent rise in searches for the pronoun.

The word is used as a singular pronoun by nonbinary people who do not identify as either exclusively male or female and Merriam-Webster officially added this third definition as an entry in September.

Emily Brewster, senior editor at Merriam-Webster, said: “Pronouns are among the language’s most commonly used words, and like other common words (think ‘go,’ ‘do,’ and ‘have’) they tend to be mostly ignored by dictionary users”. 

“But over the past year or so, as people have increasingly encountered the nonbinary use, we’ve seen searches for ‘they’ grow dramatically.”

The dictionary said they had selected it as Word of the Year for 2019 to reflect the fact that the word’s use as a singular pronoun had "become increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers".

The dictionary said this latest definition had become increasingly common in published text, as well as on social mediaCredit:

Searches for the pronoun had increased by 313 per cent over the previous year, Merriam-Webster said.

"Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years," the company said. 

Merriam-Webster did not offer a runner-up contender but did note that searches for the phrase “quid pro quo” spiked 644 per cent from last year in the wake of the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump.  

The Latin phrase, which literally translates as “something for something”, is defined by the dictionary as “something given or received for something else” and as “a deal arranging a quid pro quo.”

Mr Trump has repeatedly invoked the phrase to deny he attempted to broker an agreement with Ukraine for his own political gain.

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