‘They’ was just named 2015’s Word of the Year

In a year that saw “manbun,” “dadbod” and “trigger warning” creep into our daily vocabularies, it was a simple pronoun that was deemed the most notable word of them all.

“They” has been named 2015’s Word of the Year.

More than 300 linguists, lexicographers and grammarians voted on the award Friday at the American Dialect Society’s annual conference, held this year in Washington, D.C.

The word “they” was selected for the considerable traction it gained in 2015 as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.

English speakers have used “they” and “their” for centuries to refer to someone of unknown gender, like in the sentence “Everyone does their best.” However, more recently, the usage of the pronoun has expanded to include people who choose to identify outside the traditional gender binary.

“There has been a lot of discussion lately about pronouns and people taking on their own pronouns, making that a matter of choice,” said Ben Zimmer, president of the American Dialect Society, in an interview with Business Insider. That’s an interesting development that singular ‘they’ is in the middle of.”

“It does say something about the way people are exploring gender and sexual identity, and perhaps a greater openness to accepting new ways of expressing that identity through language.”

Zimmer pointed to various news outlets that have broadened their linguistic standards in recent months. In November, the New York Times used the honorific “Mx.” as an alternative to “Mr.” or “Ms.” when a subject “preferred not to be assigned a gender.”

And a week later, the Washington Post added “they” to their style guide to accommodate “people who identify as neither male nor female.”

For Zimmer, these changes epitomize the evolution of language.

“It moves beyond the traditional binary of ‘he’ and ‘she’,” Zimmer told Business Insider. “It feels like an opening up of the language, allowing for a greater possibility of what these pronouns can refer to.”

In another Word of the Year category, “manbun” — defined as a man’s hairstyle pulled up in a bun — won Most Unnecessary. Meanwhile, the honour of Most Euphemistic went to “Netflix and chill” — “the sexual come-on masked as a suggestion to watch Netflix and relax.”

“Schlong,” whose dubious history as a verb was invoked by Donald Trump at a December campaign rally, lost to “f—boi” in a runoff for Most Shocking.

The American Dialect Society has held the Word of the Year vote since 1991. Previous winners include “occupy” in 2011, “metrosexual” in 2003 and “chad” in 2000. Last year’s winner, #blacklivesmatter, was the first time a hashtag won the vote.

Here’s the full list of 2015’s winners and nominees (winners in bold):

Word of the Year

ammosexual: firearm enthusiast

ghost: (verb) abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, in person or online

on fleek: excellent, impeccable, “on point”

Thanks, Obama: a sarcastic phrase assigning blame to the President

*they: gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person, as a non-binary identifier

Most Useful

mic drop: definitive end to a discussion after making an impressive point

microaggression: subtle form of racism or bias

shade: insult, criticism or disrespect, shown in a subtle or clever manner

*they: gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person, as a non-binary identifier

zero f—- given, ZFG: indication of supreme indifference

Most Creative

adult: (verb) behave like a grownup

*ammosexual: firearm enthusiast

squad: one’s posse or close circle of friends

yass, yaass, yaaass, etc.: expression of excitement, approval or strong agreement

Most Unnecessary

dadbod: flabby physique of a typical dad

*manbun: man’s hairstyle pulled up in a bun

or nah: question tag expressing that something may not occur

trigger warning: alert for potentially distressing material

Most Outrageous

fish gape: posed expression with cheeks sucked in and lips slightly apart

*f—boy, f—boi: derogatory term for a man who behaves objectionably or promiscuously

schlong: (verb) defeat soundly

sharewashing: deceptive marketing by companies treating services as “sharing”

Most Euphemistic

af, asf: intensifier after an adjective (“as f—“)

lit: amazing, exciting or fun

*Netflix and chill: sexual come-on masked as a suggestion to watch Netflix and relax

swipe right/left: accept or reject (based on gestures used on Tinder dating app)

Most Likely to Succeed

CRISPR: gene-editing technology allowing biologists to alter and control DNA sequences

*ghost: (verb) abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, in person or online

mum: admiring term of address for a woman seen by younger women as a mother figure

on fleek: excellent, impeccable, “on point”

Least Likely to Succeed

Berniementum: momentum behind the candidacy of Bernie Sanders

hoverboard: self-balancing motorised skateboard

*sitbit: device that rewards sedentary lifestyle (play on Fitbit fitness tracker)

Uber for X: pitch used by startups seeking to emulate Uber in different tech sectors

Most Notable Hashtag

#JeSuisParis: expression of solidarity after the Paris terror attacks

#LoveWins: celebration of Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage

*#SayHerName: call to bring attention to police violence against black women

#StayMadAbby: ridiculing plaintiff in Univ. of Texas affirmative action case

#StayWoke: exhortation to remain vigilant and informed (used by #BlackLivesMatter movement)

Most Notable Emoji

heart eyes (romantic, passionate)

winking face (humorous, flirtatious)

information desk person (sassy, sarcastic)

*eggplant (male genitalia, sexual innuendo)

100 (“keep it 100,” “keep it real”)

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