I can’t help but think that M-W is absolutely right. Oh, sure, “they” has been around for a very long time. In fact, “they” has been used as a gender-neutral pronoun to correspond with “everyone” and “someone” for more than 600 years, M-W said on their website. It’s only recently that “they” has been used for nonbinary people.
I’ve seen “they” used in stories (both news and fiction), but in June, I heard it on my TV for the first time while viewing the BBC/Amazon Prime mini-series, Good Omens. (I talked about it in August here on the blog.)
The character was Pollution, and in the book, I remember the character being a “he” – but the book was written in 1990, while the TV program streamed 29 years later. “They” fit the character, and brought the story into the 21st century.
One of the foreign teachers in my neighborhood also became a “they” in 2019. They didn’t announce it directly to me, but I heard about it through the grapevine, and talked with them later at a party, and they said they identified as nonbinary.
It’s a bit confusing, I have to admit. It’s almost impossible to know a pronoun these days without asking, and asking still feels intrusive and like I’m asking about something that’s none of my business. But not-knowing really impedes a conversation.
Before I had kids, I wanted to be a person who didn’t see gender – just someone who saw people. But then, I slowly began to realize how much gender (or nonbinary) is a part of a person. I dressed my little girls in green and yellow, and they didn’t have much hair . . . and then I got strangely offended when people assumed they were males. I felt a little bit like it was an attack on all females, so I began adding flowers and gender-influenced clothing, figuring if the kids wanted to be nonbinary or even boys, they could express that as soon as they could make a choice in their own clothing (which, if I remember right, started when they were two – maybe a little earlier).
Gender and nonbinary are really important nuances, and I’m glad we finally have an officially recognized word to express ourselves more clearly.
Different countries have different words of the year, of course. In Japan, the kanji of the year was a Chinese character meaning “command” or “order” (as in put in order, regulated). Rei is the first kanji in the new imperial era which started in 2019, Reiwa (令和). I wrote about it here in April.
Have you seen any other good words of the year? Or bad ones? It’s always remarkable to see how people sum up their entire year in one word.