Ingram Blog

Let's Talk Gender and Language

Becky Walton, MLS, Collection Development Librarian, Ingram Library Services

With the announcement that “they” was picked as Merriam-Webster’s 2019 Word of the Year (watch a Merriam-Webster editor explain the choice here), I wanted to know how the publishing world is responding. Turns out, authors and publishers are providing timely, appropriate books about pronouns in language for all ages.

Not only did Merriam-Webster choose “they” as their word of the year, they also expanded its definition to include that the word can be “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.”

American Heritage Dictionary, too, has made the addition. In 2017, “they” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun was added to the Associated Press Stylebook and in 2015, The Washington Post made the same change to its style guide. The APA Stylebook also recommends the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. The American Dialect Society appointed “they” as word of the decade.

Among the first to discuss binary and non-binary gender language, Leslie Feinberg used the pronouns “s/he” and “hir” on the jacket of hir 1996 book Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Rupaul.

In the world of books and publishing, these authors preferring the pronouns “them” and “they” are worth knowing:

In other areas of entertainment, these stars consider themselves to be gender nonconforming and may or may not prefer “they” pronouns (Angel Haze prefers “xe” and “xer”).

  • Janelle Monáe, singer and actress - Hidden Figures and Moonlight
  • Amandla Stenberg, The Hunger Games and The Hate U Give
  • Ruby Rose, Batwoman and Orange Is the New Black
  • Jonathan Van Ness, Queer Eye
  • Indya Moore, Pose
  • Brigette Lundy-Paine, Atypical
  • Asia Kate Dillon, John Wick 3
  • Tommy Dorfman, 13 Reasons Why
  • Bex Taylor-Klaus, Dumplin’ and 13 Reasons Why
  • Indya Moore, Pose
  • Lachlan Watson, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
  • Liv Hewson, The Santa Clarita Diet
  • Angel Haze, rapper
  • Ser Anzoategui, Vida
  • Ellie Desautels, Rise
  • Sam Smith, singer

While “they” is getting the most attention at present, there are people who prefer other pronouns. For example, Justin Vivian Bond, author of Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels, prefers the pronoun “v” and the honorific “Mx.”

People are beginning to notate their pronoun preferences on social media platforms, such as linguist Eris Young, and other online places for biographical information, such as linguist Kirby Conrod’s entry in the University of Washington directory.

To stay part of the conversation about “they” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun, follow International Pronouns Day and @DrGrammar. DrGrammar is Dennis Cohen, author of What's Your Pronoun?: Beyond He and She and professor emeritus of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois.

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