Now that 2015 has officially bid us farewell, it is appropriate to reflect on some of the larger, memorable phenomena of the year. What may first come to mind is the U.S. lifting sanctions to Cuba, Taylor Swift’s epic squad formation or the rise of the “whip.” Contrary to popular belief, however, our very own English language has its fair share of memorable words from 2015 to add to the books.
The American Dialect Society had their annual meeting in Washington D.C. on Jan. 8 and voted on the 2015 word of the year as well as emoji, hashtag, most unnecessary, most creative of the year and more. The singular “they,” gender-neutral pronoun took home the win.
This may seem confusing and just wrong to the grammar police, but it really is already a common habit in the way we speak. Jeff Guo from the Washington Post’s example of the way we use this term is, “Everybody wants their cat to succeed” rather than, “Everybody wants his or her cat to succeed.”
Stepping away from English grammar rules, the use of this word has been revolutionary for society to finally have representation for those that identify as non-binary in gender terms. The acceptance of transgender and gender fluid people has not been an easy road and is still a larger issue our society deals with to this day. The singular “they” chosen as word of the year does more than hold a title, it allows people to now comfortably present their identity through the use of language.
“They” is the third word chosen as word of the year to have to do with social change. “Occupy” was the word of 2011, as in the infamous Wall Street protests, and “#blacklivesmatter” won for 2014. It is important for the American Dialect Society to vote on words that stand for a social cause because recognition is one of the most influential driving forces to continue to stand and rally for a greater good, whether that be economic, racial or gender injustice.
The other nominees for the 2015 word of the year included “ghost,” “ammosexual,” “on fleek” and “thanks, Obama.” While some of these words have a fun flare to them, none hold the same meaning and social impact as the singular “they.”
Along with “occupy” and “#blacklivesmatter,” the singular “they” proves just how powerful language can be when utilized correctly. I look forward to a 2016 that continues to have a social impact through the use of language.