Merriam-Webster added a new definition for the word "they" in its most recent group of updates, reflecting the word's increased usage among people who identify as gender nonbinary — someone who doesn't identify as either male or female.
The newly added definition, which is the fourth under the entry for "they," defines the word as being "used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary."
Using the term in an example, the entry reads, "I knew certain things about...the person I was interviewing...They had adopted their gender-neutral name a few years ago, when they began to consciously identify as nonbinary—that is, neither male nor female. They were in their late 20s, working as an event planner, applying to graduate school."
The use of "they" as a singular pronoun to address a person has grown in popularity and acceptance in recent years, even to the point which some organizations issue diversity guidance advising people to ask others what their preferred pronouns are upon meeting them.
Users on social media sites such as Twitter will sometimes include preferred pronouns in their bio, alerting others to whether they prefer to be referred to as he/him, she/her, or they/them.
Singer Sam Smith, who came out as gender nonbinary in March, announced Friday that he wanted to be referred to by the pronouns "they/them."
"Today is a good day so here goes," Smith posted on Instagram. "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to they/them after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out.
"I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*** it! I understand there will be many mistakes and misgendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now."
Smith previously identified as a gay man, but now has said, "I am not male or female. I think I float somewhere in between."