When it comes to etymology, 2015 was — as one presidential candidate would say —yuuuge! Among the hundreds of words added to the Oxford English Dictionary last year were awesomesauce (“extremely good; excellent”), webisode (“original episode derived from a television series, made for online viewing”), and truther (rhymes with Luther, “conspiracy theorist”). The OED’s Word of the Year wasn’t a word at all: It was an emoji known as “Face with Tears of Joy,” above.
Many of the additions have their origins in lighthearted slang, but some were developed to be more sensitive to expressions of gender. Cisgender, the antonym of transgender, is now in the OED; it was first used in the late 1990s. The letter “x” is being used in words like Mx. and Latinx to achieve gender-neutrality.
Perhaps the biggest change of all: They and their are now acceptable as singular, gender-neutral pronouns. At least that’s the verdict of the new Washington Poststyle guide and of the American Dialect Society, which crowned they as its own Word of the Year.
David Galef ’81, a professor of English who often writes about language, considers the move toward gender-neutrality in an essay on page 24. It’s one of three essays on different topics in this issue, as we aim to bring more voices to PAW.
What to make of the changes? Most copy editors I know respect tradition — merely replacing under way with underway, as the AP Style Guide recommended last year, had many in a tizzy. But language changes, and style guides change as well. PAW reviews its own style each summer.