NEWS
19/09/2019 8:42 AM AEST | Updated 19/09/2019 8:48 AM AEST

US Online Dictionary Merriam-Webster Adds Use Of 'They' As Gender Nonbinary Pronoun To Its Definitions

"It’s simply not a usage that can be ignored anymore," one of the dictionary's editors said.

Merriam-Webster has incorporated the use of “they” as a nonbinary pronoun to its list of definitions of the word. 

The dictionary publishers made the announcement this week on Merriam-Webster’s website and on Twitter. 

“They,” the dictionary now notes, can be “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.”

“New words are a happy fact of life for a living language, and taking careful stock of the words that we use is an important part of the work of dictionary editors,” Merriam-Webster officials wrote in a short post on the company’s official website. “Words can come and go in a language, but those that show staying power and increasing use need to be recorded and described. In other words: they need definitions.”

In an interview with USA Today published Tuesday, Merriam-Webster senior editor Emily Brewster further explained the addition.

“In more recent years, we have this nonbinary ‘they,’ which is now appearing in carefully edited text,” she said. “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.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union and GLAAD were among the many advocacy groups to applaud Merriam-Webster’s decision.

The news comes less than a week after pop singer Sam Smith, who identifies as genderqueer and nonbinary, announced that they were embracing the gender neutral pronouns “they” and “them.” 

“After a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out,” the four-time Grammy winner wrote on Instagram Sept. 13. “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 fuck it!” 

“I understand there will be many mistakes and misgendering,” they added, “but all I ask is you please please try.” 

Tuesday’s list of 533 new words also included “escape room,” “dad joke” and “vacay.”