The nonbinary pronoun “they” has been officially recognized by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a word worthy of definition.
The definition of “they” used to have 3 definitions:
- those ones : those people, animals, or things
- used to refer to people in a general way or to a group of people who are not specified
- used with an indefinite third person singular antecedent
As can be seen, the definitions of “they” were used to refer to some sort of plurality, except for the third, which is commonly used as a synonym for ‘the other(s)’ or a person who is part of a group, but is not currently with the group.
Now, a fourth definition reads “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary”, with nonbinary being subsequently defined as a person who identifies as neither male or female.
“It’s an expansion of a use that is sometimes called the ‘singular they’ (and one that has a long history in English),” Merriam-Webster wrote.
“When a reflexive pronoun corresponding to singular use of they is needed, themself is seeing increasing use.”
As Global News reports, many have attacked Merriam-Webster on their blog over the move to include this new definition, with critics arguing it is grammatically incorrect. Conversely, others have hailed the progressive decision for its formal inclusion of nonbinary/transgender-related terminology.
“We often focus on legal changes and policy reforms to advance inclusion of LGBTQI2S people, but smaller steps like having they/them defined as a pronoun in the dictionary not only lifts a weight off of trans, non-binary, two-spirit and gender-diverse people when navigating everyday life, it also shows that our society is becoming more inclusive,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director at Egale Canada.
“It also means there are zero excuses at this point for not respecting a person’s gender identity, and that is huge.”
Whether you are angered or ecstatic, it is important to remember that accuracy as well as relevancy are a factor in the decision to include a term or new definition in the dictionary. Language is highly malleable, and a dictionary is meant to reflect real-world usage as much as technical grammatical usage.