HILTON NEW ORLEANS RIVERSIDE, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—JAN. 3—In its 30th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted for “(my) pronouns” as its Word of the Year (2019) and singular “they” as its Word of the Decade (2010-2019). “(My) pronouns” was recognized for its use as an introduction for sharing one’s set of personal pronouns (as in “pronouns: she/her”), while singular “they” was recognized for its growing use to refer to a known person whose gender identity is nonbinary. Singular “they” was previously selected by the ADS as the 2015 Word of the Year.
Presiding at the Jan. 3 voting session was Ben Zimmer, chair of the American Dialect Society’s New Words Committee and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
“When a basic part of speech like the pronoun becomes a vital indicator of social trends, linguists pay attention,” Zimmer said. “The selection of “(my) pronouns” as Word of the Year speaks to how the personal expression of gender identity has become an increasing part of our shared discourse. That trend is also reflected in singular “they” being chosen as Word of the Decade, with a growing recognition of the use of they for those whose identities don’t conform to the binary of he and she.”
Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.
The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion.
Members in the 131-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead, they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.
In a companion vote, sibling organization the American Name Society voted “Arrokoth” (the name of a far-flung minor planet) as Name of the Year for 2019 in its fifteenth annual name-of-the-year contest.