The American Dialect Society's Word of the Year is 'They'

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Every January at the annual convention of the American Dialect Society, a high-spirited crowd of linguists pack themselves into a conference room to passionately yet jovially argue for their favorites in the Word of the Year vote. Winners are chosen in various categories and the vote is held by a good, old-fashioned show of hands. Here are some of the words from last night's event.


They won for overall Word of the Year, not because it's a new word, but because it finally seems to be coming into its own as an accepted gender-neutral singular pronoun. This year the style guide of The Washington Post accepted singular they, and as time goes on more editing guidelines are bound to make the same change. While they has long been used as a pronoun for a person whose gender is unknown, it was chosen as Word of the Year particularly for its role as a pronoun for someone who wishes to avoid a binary gender distinction. Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, explained its appeal this way: “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.” It also won the category Most Useful.


Of all the candidates for the Most Unnecessary Word—a field that included dadbod, or nah, trigger warning, and thanks Obamamanbun was deemed the least necessary because it may as well just be called a bun.


Defined as a "sexual come-on masked as a suggestion to watch Netflix and relax," one supporter cited the way it's given rise to a while new vocabulary of relationship progression. She had been informed by some of her students that "Netflix and chill" may be followed by "Hulu and commit."


The verb to ghost, meaning "abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, especially online" was deemed more likely to succeed than its competitors CRISPR ("gene-editing technology allowing biologists to alter and control DNA sequences"), mom ("admiring term of address for a woman seen as a mother figure"), and the already-tired on fleek ("put together, impeccable, well-arrayed").


If we've got Fitbit, why not sitbit, a device that rewards you for sitting around? This wordplay on the fitness tracking device craze was deemed not likely to stick around.


This coinage for "someone who loves firearms in a fetishistic manner" won out over the verb to adult, meaning behave like a grown up, as in "I just made a dentist appointment, put a roast in the oven, and finished my taxes. I am adulting so hard right now!"

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January 9, 2016 - 9:09am
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