Sam Smith Helped Make This Pronoun Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year

Sam Smith
Mariano Regidor/WireImage

Sam Smith attends 'Los40 music awards 2019' photocall at Wizink Center on Nov. 8, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. 

As culture continues to evolve toward greater acceptance of LGBTQ, the way we approach language has become an increasingly interesting debate over the last few decades. But today, a word as small as "they" has managed to earn a major prize in the pages of the dictionary.   

On Tuesday (Dec. 10), Merriam-Webster announced that their word of the year was the pronoun "they." The dictionary expanded their original definition of the word back in September, adding a new entry that reads "used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary." According to the dictionary, searches for the term increased by 313% in 2019.

"English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years,"  the dictionary wrote in its official announcement. "There's no doubt that its use is established in the English language, which is why it was added to the dictionary this past September."

In their announcement, Merriam-Webster acknowledged a number of signficant cultural moments throughout 2019 that led to search spikes for "they," including an April House Judiciary Committee hearing where Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal spoke about her gender-nonconforming child. One of those significant search spikes, according to Merriam-Webster, came when pop singer Sam Smith publicly changed their pronouns to "they/them" in September (just a few days before the entry was added to the dictionary). 

Smith was not the only notable star who came out as non-binary this year: Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness and RuPaul's Drag Race's Valentina also publicly revealed that they identified as non-binary.

Check out the official announcement of "they" as Merriam-Webster's word of the year here.