Tuesday Buzz: Dialect Society Gives Singular “They” the Thumbs-Up

By choosing "they" as its 2015 Word of the Year, the American Dialect Society gives the pronoun its official approval to be used in the singular form. Also: Does the quick buzz around Peach highlight social media's rapid half-life?

They chose wisely.

Over the weekend, members of the American Dialect Society picked the 2015 Word of the Year, and the selection could ruffle a few feathers in newsrooms around the country.

That’s because ADS decided that it is acceptable to use the gender-neutral word “they” to refer to an individual as a substitute for the longer (and arguably more awkward) “he or she.” Part of the issue, says Ben Zimmer, the chair of ADS’ New Words Committee, is the changing environment around gender identity.

“In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Zimmer said in a statement at a society event on Friday. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”

The decision received widespread support. MTV called it “a win for gender neutrality.” And Inc. contributor Chris Matyszczyk points out that the singular “they” is already common parlance in the United Kingdom. (It also was perhaps less controversial than some of the other choices, which included “ammosexual,” the suggestive eggplant emoji, and “Netflix and chill.”)

But the situation is a complicated one in the world of copy editing. Bill Walsh, a copy editor at The Washington Post, decided last year to allow the use of the singular “they” based on “the increasing visibility of gender-neutral people” for whom “he or she” doesn’t fit. Walsh said that he was aware the change would cause controversy but that it gets around the use of the clunky “he or she.”

The American Copy Editors Society (ACES) also backed the move, which the organization itself had been debating internally in recent years.

“It continues the validation that sometimes the fix is worse than the flaw,” wrote Merrill Perlman, who leads the ACES Education Fund, in a message regarding the change. “Avoiding they can create stilted language. The ADS adds momentum to the movement.”

Think champions of singular “they” know what they’re talking about? Share your thoughts below.

Flash in the Peach?

To get an idea of how fast the world of social media works, today we’re writing about the supposed death of an application that we wrote about yesterday.

Strategist Tero Kuittinen, writing for Boy Genius Report, was the first to claim that the “Death of Peach” is imminent. His reasoning is that the hype is outrunning the actual appeal of the app—something he bases on its rank on the iPhone download chart. (Kuittinen famously made the same claim about Meerkat last March, citing the app’s weak spot on the same chart.)

“There are no comebacks in the app industry. If an app performs weakly despite heavy marketing or media support, the app is dead,” Kuittinen explains. “It cannot be revived. Real app vendors know this and kill weakly performing apps early and often. There are no second chapters in this biz. Meerkat was dead three weeks after it launched and Peach is dead four days after its debut.”

Whether or not Kuittinen is right, it’s worth pointing out that the app has improved its standing since his piece appeared, jumping from 129 to 95 on the free apps chart. TechCrunch has a slightly more optimistic take on the app’s chart history.

Other Links of Note

Learn something about learning. On his Mission to Learn blog, Tagoras’ Jeff Cobb has a new e-book out called 10 Ways To Be a Better Learner. It’s free, by the way, through Friday.

Internet Explorer is mostly dead in the eyes of Microsoft. The company will offer virtually no support for versions 8, 9, and 10 of its iconic web browser. While the company is still supporting IE 11, it has mostly switched gears to the the next-generation Edge browser.

Just getting started with your online community? MemberClicks has plenty of great strategies to help you succeed.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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