I find the whole “word of the year” thing annoying and generally ignore the many news stories based on PR releases by lexicographers and other harmless drudges trying to drum up a little attention, but I have three cheers for this one from Dennis Baron:
Singular they is word of the year for 2015. A common-gender third-person pronoun, singular they has been popular in English speech and writing for over 650 years. Although frequently classified by purists as ungrammatical, its use seems undiminished, and it may even be on the rise because it fills an important linguistic niche. In recent years, more and more English speakers have sought a gender-neutral alternative to pronouns that express the traditional male/female binary, turning either to invented pronouns like xe and zie, or to that old stand-by, singular they. Because singular they has witnessed a dramatic rehabilitation over the past year, the Web of Language Distinguished Usage Panel unanimously chose to honor it as word of the year for 2015.*
The footnote says, “Truth in advertising: The Web of Language Distinguished Usage Panel, charged each year with picking the Word of the Year, consists entirely of me.” The rest of the post contains a nice history of the form and its history, and I applaud Baron’s choice. If anyone has a problem with it, let them eat xe!
Addendum. Geoffrey Nunberg posted this on Facebook, adding:
I took Dennis Baron’s selection of singular “they” as his Word of the Year as occasion to change my Facebook pronoun to “they” (as in “Wish them a happy birthday”), not so much because I have a problem with cisgender pronouns, but as a finger in the eye of the pedants who think there’s something wrong with “Everyone took their coat,” secure in the grammar they learned in eighth grade at the end of Sister Petra’s ruler.