Members of the American Dialect Society met in Washington, DC, last week, and they voted “they” – or more specifically the use of “they” as a third-person singular pronoun – as the Word of the Year for 2015.
Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the ADS (and the executive editor of Vocabulary.com and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal), wrote that the “lowly pronoun” was selected due to it use as a “gender-neutral alternative to he and she,
Of course, the use of “they” as a singular pronoun has been around for years. As a matter of fact, Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson’s third cousin, twice removed – at her requested) first advocated the use of gender-neutral pronouns in the middle of the 19th century.
Dickinson believed that since we used the same pronoun “you” for all second-person singular and second-person plural cases, we should do the same for first person (“we” – sometimes referred to as the “royal we”) and third person (“they”).
In the mid-1800s Dickinson wrote a short poem entitled “Let our third person be just they” to promote the use of “they” as a gender-neutral alternative to he and she. His poem inspired third cousin Emily to write “Let my first knowing be of thee.”
By Emmett Lee Dickinson:
Let our third person be just they
And he, she, it unite
And at first Hearing be it known
Embrace they when you write –
By Emily Dickinson:
Let my first knowing be of thee
With morning’s warming Light –
And my first Fearing, lest Unknowns
Engulf thee in the night –
Also, just FYI: Emmett Lee Dickinson promoted other modifications to make English simpler.
* He hoped to end the nonsense with there, their, and they’re by advocating the use of theiyr to replace all three.
* He suggested the use of tu in place of to, too, and two.
* He created the word ur as a replacement for your and you’re – a practice that many millennials have adopted with modern-day text talk.
Who knows, maybe one of these words – theiyr, tu, or ur – will be a future Word of the Year? We are hopeful! ; )