MARRIOTT MARQUIS, WASHINGTON D.C.—JAN. 8—In its 26th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted for they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun as the Word of the Year for 2015. They was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she.
Presiding at the Jan. 8 voting session were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College and Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Zimmer is also executive editor of Vocabulary.com and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
The use of singular they builds on centuries of usage, appearing in the work of writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. In 2015, singular they was embraced by the Washington Post style guide. Bill Walsh, copy editor for the Post, described it as “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”
While editors have increasingly moved to accepting singular they when used in a generic fashion, voters in the Word of the Year proceedings singled out its newer usage as an identifier for someone who may identify as “non-binary” in gender terms.
“In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Zimmer said. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”
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 127-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 “Caitlyn Jenner” as Name of the Year for 2015 in its eleventh annual name-of-the-year contest, to recognize issues relating to naming conventions in the transgender community.
AMERICAN DIALECT SOCIETY VOTE TALLIES
The number after each nomination is the number of votes it received. Winners are indicated by an asterisk, and numbers separated by slash marks indicate a run-off. Voting totals for each category might not be identical because the number of voters might have changed for each category.
WORD OF THE YEAR
ammosexual: someone who loves firearms in a fetishistic manner. 42
ghost: (verb) abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, especially online. 25
on fleek: put together, impeccable, well-arrayed. 4
thanks, Obama: sarcastic expression in which a person pretends to blame Obama for a problem. 76
* they: gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person, particularly as a nonbinary identifier. 187
mic drop: definitive end to a discussion after making an impressive point. 2
microaggression: subtle form of racism or bias. 62
shade: insult, criticism or disrespect, shown in a subtle or clever manner. 11
* they: gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person, particularly as a nonbinary identifier. 214
zero fucks given, ZFG: indication of supreme indifference. 41
adult: (verb) behave like a grownup 71
* ammosexual: someone who loves firearms in a fetishistic manner. 153
lowkey: (adverb) to a small extent, in a subtle manner; opposite of highkey. 38
squad: one’s posse or close circle of friends. 3
yass, yaass, yaaass, etc.: expression of excitement, approval or strong agreement. 43
dadbod: the flabby physique of a typical dad. 16
* manbun: man’s hairstyle pulled up in a bun. 207
or nah: question tag expressing that something may not occur. 34
trigger warning: alert for potentially distressing material. 10
thanks, Obama: sarcastic expression in which a person pretends to blame Obama for a problem. 34
fish gape: posed expression with cheeks sucked in and lips slightly apart. 3
* fuckboy, fuckboi: derogatory term for a man who behaves objectionably or promiscuously. 127 / 173
schlong: (verb) defeat soundly. 93 / 148
sharewashing: deceptive marketing by companies treating services as “sharing.” 14
white student union: campus organization organized in response to a black student union. 27
af, asf: intensifier after an adjective (abbreviation for “as fuck”). 1
lit: amazing, exciting or fun. 2
* Netflix and chill: sexual come-on masked as a suggestion to watch Netflix and relax. 315
swipe right/left: accept or reject (based on gestures used on Tinder dating app). 24
MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
CRISPR: gene-editing technology allowing biologists to alter and control DNA sequences. 51
* ghost: (verb) abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, especially online. 223
mom: admiring term of address for a woman seen as a mother figure. 17
on fleek: put together, impeccable, well-arrayed. 23
LEAST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
Berniementum: momentum behind the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. 59
hoverboard: self-balancing motorized skateboard. 82 / 106
* sitbit: device that rewards sedentary lifestyle (play on Fitbit fitness tracker). 102 / 191
Uber for X: pitch used by startups seeking to emulate Uber in different tech sectors. 33
MOST NOTABLE HASHTAG (new category)
#JeSuisParis: expression of solidarity after the Paris terror attacks. 6
#LoveWins: celebration of Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. 60
* #SayHerName: call to bring attention to violence against women of color. 178
#StayMadAbby: ridiculing plaintiff in Univ. of Texas affirmative action case. 17
#StayWoke: exhortation to remain vigilant and informed (used by #BlackLivesMatter movement). 59
MOST NOTABLE EMOJI (new category)
😍: heart eyes (romantic, passionate). 31
😉: winking face (humorous, flirtatious). 8
💁: information desk person (sassy, sarcastic). 31
* 🍆: eggplant (sexual innuendo). 138
💯: 100 (“keep it 100,” “keep it real”). 56