B1 Intermediate US 201 Folder Collection
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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year is determined by data.
The word must have been a top lookup at Merriam-Webster dot com in the past 12 months, and it must have seen a significant increase in lookups over the previous year.
Our Word of the Year for 2019 is "they."
The shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years, and especially in the past year.
Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019.
This curiosity is remarkable for a venerable old pronoun, and it's a consequence of shifts in the way the word they is used.
English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone, someone, and anyone.
And as a consequence, they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years.
Much of this use is unremarkable, as in, "No one has to come if they don't want to."
More recently, though, they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is non-binary, a use that was prominent in the news in 2019.
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 increasingly 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.
Among the words that make up our Top 10 for 2019, several came from words looked up because of politics in the news: quid pro quo, impeach, and exculpate.
Egregious was used to describe the failures of the navigation system of the 737 MAX planes.
Clemency was looked up following the release of a woman imprisoned at 16.
Snitty was looked up when Attorney General Barr used the word to describe a letter from Robert Mueller.
Tergiversation is a bookish word used in a column by George Will.
Crawdad is in the title of a bestseller.
Finally, the definite article the or the spiked after The Ohio State University filed a trademark application for its use.
People turn to the dictionary for lots of reasons, and we can be sure of one thing from this evidence: words matter.
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2019 Word of the Year: Behind the Scenes

201 Folder Collection
Courtney Shih published on December 12, 2019
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