Merriam-Webster announced that its Word of the Year is “they.” The company, which publishes dictionaries and reference books, said that online searches for the word increased 313% in 2019 over the previous year. The plural pronoun “they,” according to the company, may now be used as a singular pronoun.
Merriam-Webster also stated that “they” should be used for individuals who are “gender-nonconforming” or “nonbinary” and prefer the plural pronoun to refer to themselves, instead of “he” or “she.”
This is just another example of how gender activist groups have been wildly successful in redefining words and demanding others follow their usage. They do so to further their social and political goals.
It’s reminiscent of a scene in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Carroll, who delighted in mathematics, logic and word play, depicts Humpty Dumpty arguing with Alice that a word “means just what I choose it to mean.”
Here’s the thought-rattling scene from the book:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
In an online video, Peter Sokolowski, editor of the company’s Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, explained two criteria for the selection of “they,” saying: “Merriam-Webster’s Word of theYear is determined by data. The word must have been a top look-up at merriam-webster.com in the past 12 months, and it must have seen a significant increase in look-ups over the previous year.”
Along with “they,” the company gave a list of the 10 words searched for the most in 2019 which had a significant increase from the previous year:
- quid pro quo – “something given or received for something else”
- impeach – “to charge with a crime or misdemeanor”
- crawdad – In the eastern part of the U.S., these small freshwater crustaceans are usually called “crayfish,” but west of the Appalachians, “crawdad” is used.
- egregious– “conspicuously bad”
- clemency– “an act or instance of mercy, compassion, or forgiveness” or “willingness or ability to moderate the severity of a punishment “
- the – among other usages, “the” is a definite article that points to a specific noun
- snitty – “disagreeably ill-tempered”
- tergiversation – “evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement” or “desertion of a cause, position, party, or faith”
- camp – an absurdly exaggerated mode of expression or something so artificial or out-of-date as to be considered amusing
- exculpate– “to clear from alleged fault or guilt”
Many of the words were looked up online because they were in political news stories. “The” apparently made the list after The Ohio State University filed a trademark for “THE” as a trademark brand for a clothing line, while “tergiversation” was searched for after the word appeared in a George Will column at The Washington Post.
Sokolowski described “the shifting use of ‘they’” in speech and writing which has become “the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years, and especially in the past year.” He explained that the English language lacks a gender-neutral, singular pronoun “to correspond neatly with pronouns like ‘everyone,’ ‘someone’ and ‘anyone.’ He gave this example of the singular usage of the word, “No one has to come if they don’t want to.”
At the same time, Merriam-Webster gave a more controversial, social and political definition for “they,” saying it could be used “to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” The publishing company added that “it’s important to use the correct pronouns for whomever you’re communicating with: Nonbinary, genderqueer, and/or gender-variant people might use any of a variety of pronouns, including xim, ze, sie, and hir, while others use he or she” (links from the Merriam-Webster statement).
Sokolowski said this usage was prominent in 2019, adding: “The American Psychological Association now recommends that singular “they” be preferred in professional writing over “he or she” when the reference is to a person whose gender is unknown or to a person who prefers “they.” It’s also increasing common to see ‘they and them’ as a person’s preferred pronouns in Twitter bios, email signatures and conference name tags. Merriam-Webster added this sense in a new definition this past September.”
So “they,” according to Merriam-Webster and other cultural leaders, is now used for individuals who don’t identify as male or female, but believe they are somehow outside that “binary.” Merriam-Webster is acquiescing to a “gender ideology” which says that there are multiple “genders,” rather than two sexes; that people may shift from one sex to become the other; and that gender is an internal sense, rather than a biological reality.
As this ideology has developed, language has been co-opted in the process, with individuals and groups creating new terms and demanding their use. In New York City, for example, you can be fined for not using a person’s “preferred pronouns.” And teachers have been fired for “mispronouning” a student.
Years ago, George Orwell wrote about the way political groups and activists revise language to suit their purposes and to change the way we think about ideas. In Politics and the English Language, he wrote, “Political language—and with variations, this is true of all political parties, from conservatives to anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.”
Many cultural elites, including Merriam-Webster, have bought into the lie that says a person can be a sex other than male or female. Their redefinition of “they” and its choice as word of the year will contribute to cultural confusion. It’s likely we’ll see more “Words of the Year” created and fostered by groups with an activist social agenda.
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