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Sorry, grammar nerds. The singular ‘they’ has been declared Word of the Year.

Stashed in: Words!, Grammar!, Emojis!, Gender, Language

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Really?! Why??

How and why:  In a landslide vote, the language experts chose singular they over "thanks, Obama," ammosexual, "on fleek," and other contenders for this annual award given to the most significant term or word in the past year.

Singular they, which The Post officially adopted in its Style guide in 2015, is already a common habit in American speech. An example: "Everyone wants their cat to succeed."

Earlier, the so-called proper way to say it would have been, “Everyone wants his or her cat to succeed.”

But what gave this word new prominence was its usefulness as a way to refer to people who don't want to be called "he" or "she."

"We know about singular they already — we use it everyday without thinking about it, so this is bringing it to the fore in a more conscious way, and also playing into emerging ideas about gender identity," said linguist Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who presided over the voting this Friday afternoon.

The Post’s style guide ratified this usage last month, which caused some grammar pedants to shriek. But as Post copy editor Bill Walsh explained, the singular they is “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”

"the only sensible solution"?  That's hardly the case.  There have been many proposals, some of which avoid the disadvantages of abandoning the distinction between singular and plural pronouns -- a distinction that has evolved naturally in every language I'm familiar with.  For example, in my writing I alternate between feminine and masculine first person pronouns, when using non-gender specific examples.  Of course, while this is just as equitable and sounds grammatical, it is a solution that doesn't justify PC control freaks from stopping someone in the middle of an individual instance of speech and correcting him or her.  Presumably, that's why it was rejected? 

Should we abandon a kind of distinctive resolution that is apparently deemed necessary by the evolution of natural languages because of some prescriptive "language experts".  I don't think so.  It is not as though we take prescriptions on anything else... in general the "language experts" (i.e. actual grammar nerds) document what becomes common in usage, rather than the other way 'round.

All this being cantankerously said, I have no illusions about winning this battle.  Nor do I have a problem with those who say "they", I just mourn the loss of information in common speech.  More complexity and less information-conveying power is the opposite of what English needs.

Just because it's word of the year does not mean everyone will move to it.

Not everyone uses the Oxford comma and that's been around a lot longer. 

We have more important things about which to fret!  :)

The process can be controversial af (“intensifier after an adjective”). Live tweeting from the nomination room Thursday evening, linguist Gretchen McCulloch reported that there was some argument over the spelling of a popular, fabulous way to express joy:

Gretchen McCulloch‏@GretchenAMcC

Big controversies at #woty15: do you spell it yass, yaas, yaass, yaasss, yaaaaasss, yasssssss...?

Several of the nominees arose out of the digital dating scene. These days, relationships often begin with an invitation to Netflix and chill (“sexual come-on masked as a suggestion to watch Netflix and relax”) and they end when a person ghosts (v. “abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication”). And sometimes, the flame is rekindled when someone sends over the eggplant emoji 🍆 (“male genitalia, sexual innuendo”).

This is the first year that the Dialect Society has allowed emoji to compete for the WOTY title. In addition to the hundred emoji 💯 (“keep it 100,” “keep it real”), linguists also recognized the information desk person emoji 💁 (“sassy, sarcastic”), which apparently everyone has been using wrong. But emoji are what you make of them, Zimmer says, which is the beauty of online communication. People are free to appropriate and remix these icons with ZFG (“indication of supreme indifference”).

I've never heard of ZFG. What's the difference between indifference and supreme indifference?

Did you know there's no trout emoji?

It's a travesty that there is no trout emoji and consider yourself fortunate if you do not know the difference between indifference and supreme indifference.

Alrighty then. I consider myself fortunate. :)

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