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Words of the Year 2015

In its annual vote, the American Dialect Society has chosen its Words of the Year:

  • Most Useful was “they”, an animate singular gender–neutral pronoun.
  • Most Creative was “ammosexual”, a gun nut who identifies weaponry with manliness.
  • Most Unnecessary was “manbun”, using a bun as a men’s hairstyle.
  • Most Outrageous was “fuckboy”/”fuckboi”, an objectionably–behaving man.
  • Most Euphemistic was “Netflix and chill”, a sexual advance disguised as a proposal to relax while watching Netflix.
  • Most Likely to Succeed was “Ghost”, to abruptly end a relationship by ceasing all contact.
  • Least Likely to Succeed was “Sitbit”, anything that rewards for not being active.
  • Most Notable Hashtag was “#SayHerName”, used to bring attention to the serious problem of violence against women.
  • Most Notable Emoji was the eggplant, used for sexual implications

And the Word of the Year is the singular they.

Let me take this opportunity for another demonstration of why prescriptivism is bullshit. The example in this is objecting to using “they” as a singular pronoun. The nonsense objections seem to boil down to variations of the following:

  • Singular they violates number agreement. Essentially, if an antecedent is singular, so is its pronoun, and “they” is plural. This includes the singular aspects of distributives. It seems rather strange for number agreement to be so important that it cannot be violated, while at the same time natural gender (or, alternatively, animacy) agreement to be so unimportant that it can be abandoned
  • Singular they, by using plural verbs for singular antecedents confuses people. We use plural verbs in the second person, even when the context makes it clear that singular meaning is intended. Clearly, verbs being ambiguous with respect to number is no barrier to understanding. For example, we get by just fine without number agreement most contexts, such as the past perfective.
  • Singular they is a newfangled construction that is ruining the English language. The singular they is found in Shakespeare and Chaucer, for example. The earliest prescriptive complaints about it appear to date to the nineteenth century. Essentially, then, the singular they is centuries older than the earliest known  complaints about it.

In a companion vote, the ADS’s sibling organization, the American Name Society, chose “Caitlin Jenner” as its Name of the Year.

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