It’s Christmas! At Cambridge Dictionary, we like to get into the Christmas spirit so today, we’re bringing you festive phrases with a round-up of idioms that contain a word that we often associate with Christmas.
Our Word of the Year for 2019 is they. It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term—a personal pronoun—can rise to the top of our data. Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.
English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years.
More recently, though, they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers. There’s no doubt that its use is established in the English language, which is why it was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary this past September.
Nonbinary they was also prominent in the news in 2019. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA) revealed in April during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act that her child is gender-nonconforming and uses they. Singer Sam Smith announced in September that they now use they and them as pronouns. And the American Psychological Association’s blog officially recommended that singular they be preferred in professional writing over “he or she” when the reference is to a person whose gender is unknown or to a person who prefers they. It is increasingly common to see they and them as a person’s preferred pronouns in Twitter bios, email signatures, and conference nametags.
This word was chosen based on the Word of the Day that resonated most strongly with fans on the Cambridge Dictionary Instagram account, @CambridgeWords. The word upcycling – defined as the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material – received more likes than any other Word of the Day (it was shared on 4 July 2019).
Definition – the season between summer and winter; also, a period of maturity or incipient decline
Autumn is more confusing, linguistically speaking, than most of the other seasons. It has had multiple titles (fall is common in the U.S., and it’s also been known as harvest and harvest-time), and the exact dates of the season vary some. Autumn can be defined as the time extending from the September equinox to the December solstice, or as “the season in the northern hemisphere comprising the months of September, October, and November” (in the southern hemisphere it runs from the March equinox to the June solstice). And to confuse things a bit more in British use it commonly refers to the months of August through October.
Summer has followed after Spring; Now Autumn is so shrunk and sere, I scarcely think a sadder thing Can be the Winter of my year. — Christina Georgina Rossetti, The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti, 1998