Merriam-Webster has added “they” as a singular, non-binary pronoun to their dictionary.
While the singular “they” already existed in dictionary, Merriam-Webster expanded the definition to explicitly state it’s “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is non-binary.”
Many have claimed that “they” can be used only in the plural sense – referring only to a group of people – using this definition as a reason to deny the use of someone’s proper pronouns. However, the singular “they” has been used since the 1300s, with big literary names like Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen adopting the usage.
— Dictionary.com (@Dictionarycom) February 12, 2019
“In more recent years, we have this non-binary ‘they’ which is now appearing in carefully edited text,” Emily Brewster, the senior editor of Merriam-Webster, told USA Today. “It’s appearing in The New York Times. It is being chosen by people and mentioned in articles with some frequency. It’s simply not a usage that can be ignored anymore.”
“They” is one of 533 new words that were added to the dictionary this month, along with “vacay,” “escape room,” “colorism,” and “inclusive.”
“We are always [striving] to reflect the established language,” Brewster said. “There’s always been the criticism that we are too permissive, but it was scandalous in 1961 that we entered the word ‘finalize’ and no one really blinks much of an eye at that anymore.”
This expansion of the definition comes soon after non-binary singer Sam Smith announced they identified with they/them pronouns.