"They" is Merriam-Webster's word of the year


Merriam-Webster, one of the most well-known and widespread US vocabularies, chose "them" as a 2019 word, referring to its use as a singular pronoun instead of a plural pronoun. It is a practice that has been around for some years, part of the broader process by which a language is being perfected gender-neutral, that is that it does not refer specifically to a gender or gender and that it serves to avoid the so-called "linguistic discrimination".

"They", intended as a singular pronoun, are beginning to be used in English-speaking countries (especially in the United States) to refer to a person who does not identify himself as either male or female, or who identifies with both genders, or partly with one and partly with the other. A non-binary genus, therefore, that is, that does not correspond to the traditional male / female binarism. In recent years, more and more people in the United States do not want to be identified with pronouns he or she they ask that we talk about them using the their singular. For example: "they told me to greet you", in the sense that the person said to greet another.

To better understand each other it can be useful to read how the biography of the English Wikipedia page, for example, by Asia Kate Dillon, who played the first main character, is written Non-binary of American television in the TV series Billions.

The use of their singular – which, moreover, has very ancient occurrences in the English language, which date back to the 14th century – it is usually something a person asks about himself. For some time now, it has happened that – for now especially in the United States – some people indicate the pronouns they prefer to be used towards them, when they know a person or for example in the Twitter biography. In certain particularly progressive American contexts it also happens that people ask directly which pronouns to use at the time of the presentations, thus avoiding initially using the wrong ones.

Indeed, there are those who claim to use he or she to refer to someone only because he has the outward appearance or the name normally associated with a male or a female is a form of supposition that should be avoided, because it would be an automatism that implies that a person must have a certain aspect to belong to a specific gender.

Merriam-Webster chooses a word from the year every year: in 2018 it was "justice", in 2017 "feminism", in 2016 "surreal". The searches for the lemma their increased by 313 percent in 2019, Merriam-Webster said, despite its meaning gender-neutral singular of the pronoun was added only in September. His choice as word of the year was based on data, Merriam-Webster said. To cause the increase in searches, among other things, was the request of the singer Sam Smith that the their singular was used against him. Emily Brewster, a vocabulary editor, explained that pronouns are normally poorly consulted, but that their it has had a drastic growth, due to the fact that people have met it more and more often in its non-binary meaning.

If you identify yourself with a binary genus (ie male or female) and have never met the their non-binary so far, it may seem a little strange to you. Or you may think it is not necessary. You may be confused by all this new terminology. Yet it is a long time since we are looking for a non-binary pronoun. There have always been people who do not identify with a predetermined gender, or who have felt neither male nor female. But we have always struggled to find the right language to describe these people, and in particular the right pronouns.

Unlike English, linguists agree that there is no neutral gender in the Italian language, although there have been those who have tried to argue the opposite in reference to words like arm or Wall, which has the singular in -o, and two plurals in -i and -a. The debate on which language to use in Italian to refer to people Non-binary it is still rather marginal, compared to that in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Using "them" does not solve the problem, because the nouns and adjectives in the plural, unlike English, are still masculine or feminine.

However, there were some proposals, such as the use of the @ or asterisk in the writing ("sei bell @ / bell *"). To solve the problem of how to pronounce it, there are those who – among the environments of trans-feminist activism – propose to use the letter -u, valid both for the singular and for the plural: and therefore “you are / we are bellu ". Anyone who does not agree with this proposal suggests resorting to periphrasis, when possible, to avoid using nouns or adjectives characterized by gender in reference to people non binary, an operation that is often very complicated.

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