Here’s the Word of the Year announcement from the American Dialect Society:
In its 26th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted for they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun as the Word of the Year for 2015.They was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she. […]
While editors have increasingly moved to accepting singular they when used in a generic fashion, voters in the Word of the Year proceedings singled out its newer usage as an identifier for someone who may identify as “non-binary” in gender terms.
“In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Zimmer said. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”
Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.
Three cheers for singular they! 😀
It’s a tremendously useful pronoun, and I’m delighted it won Word of the Year. Singular they has 100% become my default for the generic third person, as in “Every linguist should know their IPA”, but my ease with it as a specific remains a work in progress: “Yuki knows their IPA” still jumps out at me a bit, even if I know that Yuki identifies as non-binary.
The specific usage works better for me with usernames, probably because they’re inherently non-gender-specific (like, “Lexikitty68 knows their IPA” is easier). But weirdly, the hardest time I have with singular they is when it’s used for a clearly gender-defined group: like “Every mother who breastfeeds their baby…” makes my brain go WAIT WHOSE BABY THIS IS WEIRD, even though, you know, you don’t strictly need to identify as female to be a nursing mother, so ‘they’ is probably the best choice anyway. Does anybody else have this problem, or does that phrase seem fine to you?
Either way, the way things are going, one can hope the next generation will have it figured out and internalized! Looks like we’re on the right track for making our language change to fit our needs. Which shouldn’t really come as a surprise – after all, that’s how people do.