Dictionary adds 'they' as nonbinary pronoun for the first time

'They' as a non binary pronoun has been added to the dictionary [Photo: Getty]
'They' as a non binary pronoun has been added to the dictionary [Photo: Getty]

The definition of the word ‘they’ as a nonbinary pronoun has been incorporated into the dictionary.

Dictionary publishers, Merriam-Webster, made the announcement that they had incorporated the use of ‘they’ as a nonbinary pronoun to its list of definitions on their website and 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 post on the publisher’s 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.”

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The addition comes as Sam Smith made headlines last week after announcing on social media they wanted to be known as ‘they’ instead of ‘he’.

The singer came out as nonbinary six months ago, and has now reportedly requested friends and family use they/them pronouns instead of he/him when referring to them.

By way of illustration of the star’s preference, the ‘Stay with me’ singer thanked Hits Radio presenter James Barr for referring to the star as ‘they’ on Twitter.

“Just interviewed @samsmith and they sounded so happy and free and more themselves than ever,” Barr tweeted. “It’s made me feel like the world is a good place again.”

Smith replied: “You’re one of the first people to use these pronouns with me. Thank you. That feels really beautiful.”

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While many people were supportive of the use of the pronoun ‘they’ to refer to the singer, others expressed confusion about the term being used to describe a singular person.

But in an interview with USA Today, Merriam-Webster senior editor Emily Brewster pointed out the word ‘they’ has been used commonly for centuries in the singular form as an indefinite pronoun. For example: “If someone doesn’t like it, they can leave.’’

“In more recent years, we have this nonbinary ‘they,’ which is now appearing in carefully edited text," Brewster told the publication.

“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."

Having shared the addition of the new definition on social media, many stepped forward to applaud the publisher’s decision.

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But others still struggled to understand the additional definition.

The addition is just one of 533 words that have now been added to the publisher’s online dictionary, including ‘escape room,’ ‘dad joke’ and ‘vacay.’