For two and a half years, the Associated Press has been recognizing “they” as a singular pronoun, and now America’s oldest dictionary has announced they will do the same: Merriam-Webster now includes “they” as a grammatically correct nonbinary pronoun.
Their blog post notes that people have been doing so colloquially since the 1300s, citing (among other instances) a letter from Emily Dickenson that was written in 1881. In it, she refers to a person of unknown gender with the pronouns “they,” “theirs,” and “themself.”
The dictionary does acknowledge the new application of “they,” i.e. referring to a person who doesn’t identify as male or female as opposed to referring to a person of unknown or unimportant gender. They’ll be adding this additional entry to the existing verbiage for “they”: “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.”
So, writer friends, it’s now officially acceptable to use “they” as a singular pronoun – one less thing to skip during copy edits, right?
Thanks, Merriam-Webster, for all of the many reasons to celebrate.