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Neopronouns

So... What Are Neopronouns?

Neopronouns are any set of personal pronouns besides he, she, and they. They are usually gender neutral pronouns, although some have meanings that speak to the user’s gender or experience of the world, although they are still outside of the gender binary. Gender neutral pronouns, besides singular they, have existed in the English language for hundreds of years, although most of them have not gained widespread popularity. Since the 1300’s, English speakers have attempted to introduce more than 200 gender neutral pronouns into the language, and some of them have made it into dictionaries.


Author Bio:

Edmund Green Langdell (they/them) is an ever becoming enby, whose work focuses on promoting human and environmental wellbeing through design and education. They work for Play Out Apparel as a Marketing Assistant. They strive to spread love and healing in the world through connection and education. They also design eco-friendly needle felted packers. They earned a BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design, where they worked as a Peer Health Advocate for four years, and created and led Gender Venting, a group for transgender students.



Author Bio:

Edmund Green Langdell (they/them) is an ever becoming enby, whose work focuses on promoting human and environmental wellbeing through design and education. They work for Play Out Apparel as a Marketing Assistant. They strive to spread love and healing in the world through connection and education. They also design eco-friendly needle felted packers. They earned a BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design, where they worked as a Peer Health Advocate for four years, and created and led Gender Venting, a group for transgender students.




So... What Are Neopronouns?

Neopronouns are any set of personal pronouns besides he, she, and they. They are usually gender neutral pronouns, although some have meanings that speak to the user’s gender or experience of the world, although they are still outside of the gender binary. Gender neutral pronouns, besides singular they, have existed in the English language for hundreds of years, although most of them have not gained widespread popularity. Since the 1300’s, English speakers have attempted to introduce more than 200 gender neutral pronouns into the language, and some of them have made it into dictionaries.


Intro

The term “neopronouns” emerged within the last 10 years in queer and trans circles in academia. The term encompases both the history of attempts to introduce gender neutral pronouns into the English language, and the modern nonbinary movement. Neopronouns recognize that nonbinary is not a third gender with a default third pronoun of they/them, but an umbrella term for a vast array of human experiences. Neopronouns prioritize speaking the truth of these experiences over trying to fit into a language and a system of gender that denies the existence of nonbinary people.


One reason why they/them has become such a popular gender neutral pronoun is that it was already in the language being used to refer to one person whose gender is unknown, so it was less of a difficult shift for people to make than learning new words. However, having only one pronoun for everyone who exists outside of the gender binary is misleading because it could imply that all nonbinary people are the same gender, which is not the case.

A Few Neopronouns

Every neopronoun has its own history and meaning. Here are a few examples:


The basics of pronouns to understand is the subject, object, possessive adjective, possessive pronoun, and reflexive. See below example and compare to the chart for reference! 


It’s their news, they can share it themself.The choice is theirs, it's up to them. 


It’s his news, he can share it himself. The choice is his, it's up to him. 

thon/thon/thons/thons/thonself

In 1858, American composer C. C. Converse coined thon, which gained enough popularity to appear in two dictionaries, Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary (1897) in which it remained for much of the 20th century, and Merriam Webster’s Second New International Dictionary (1934) and it continued to be listed in the Webster’s Unabridged dictionary until 1961. Thon is short for “that one,” and is the only neopronoun that became popular enough to almost make it into the general vernacular. There is a considerable body of evidence of the word in print, including in crossword puzzles, cartoons, and newspapers, however it never made it into common oral usage, which resulted in it being dropped from the dictionaries. It is not one of the more common neopronouns today. 


It’s thons news, thon can share it thonself.The choice is thons, it’s up to thon. 

ze/hir/hir/hirs/hirself

Writer J. W. L. coined the pronoun ze in 1864. Ze has since been ignored and reinvented several times. It appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary, although the OED was only able to track its usage back to 1972. Ze pronouns appear on modern lists of common neopronouns, and are used by 4.2% of nonbinary people today. In an interview in 2006, Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues and Transgender Warriors said “I like the gender neutral pronoun ze/hir because it makes it impossible to hold onto gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you’re about to meet or you’ve just met.”


It’s hir news, ze can share it hirself.The choice is hirs, it's up to hir. 

Xe/xem/xyr/xyrs/xyrself

Xe is one of the most commonly used neopronouns today, used by 8.5% of nonbinary people. Xe pronouns have been independently invented by several people, but the most commonly accepted inventor of xe pronouns is Don Rickter who coined them in November 1971. Xe pronouns then appeared in UU World, a Unitarian Universalist publication, in 1973. 


It’s xyr news, xe can share it xyrself.The choice is xyrs, it's up to xem. 

fae/faer/faer/faers/faerself

Created by Tumblr user @eidolan in 2013, fae pronouns are the most common nounself pronoun, (see more on nounself pronouns below) used by 6.1% of nonbinary people. Fae pronouns originally derived from the word fae, as in the magical beings. Although the word began with a meaning connected to the magical beings, its growth in popularity likely relates to the history of genderqueer people in the late 1800s and early 1900s being refered to as fairies.


It’s faer news, fae can share it faerself. The choice is faers, it's up to faer. 

Why are neopronouns important?

What I personally love about neopronouns is that they acknowledge the diversity of human experiences. They prioritize the complexity of an individual's relationship with gender, rather than having pronouns that always relate to the gender binary in some way. If they/them pronouns were the only gender neutral pronoun that nonbinary people had, then the thing that those pronouns tell us about the person who uses them is that they are not binary and they are not cisgender. I don’t want to be defined by what I’m not. I go by fae/faer pronouns because they point to genderqueer history. Rather than saying “I’m not binary, and I’m not cisgender” these pronouns say “I’m part of a long history of genderqueer people that has always existed.” I want pronouns that point to my trans ancestors, rather than pronouns that point to cis people and say “I’m not that.” 


I love that neopronouns give genderqueer people options for how to express themselves. The gender binary is a human constructed system that denies the truth of the diversity of humanity. Neopronouns acknowledge this truth by allowing individuals to decide the language that makes them feel the most seen, rather than trying to fit into two or three boxes.


Controversy over neopronouns

Some people both inside and outside of the trans community get upset when they encounter neopronouns. This response is due to a few reasons, including a general resistance to learning new words. It’s difficult to change the language that we use, and being asked to learn new words in order to make people feel seen can frustrate people because it takes significant effort to do so. They may also feel guilty about causing psychological stress to folks who go by neopronouns when they misgender them, and wish that people would not live their truth quite so loudly in order to allow themselves to be more comfortable. 


But anger towards neopronouns within the trans community has another layer to it. Many trans folks care deeply about being seen, accepted, and loved by cisgender people, as most of us have been consistently rejected by cis people. Many of us are still unpacking our internalized transphobia, and trauma and sometimes lead to policing of others. Some trans folks see neopronouns as too confusing for cis people to wrap their minds around, but what we need to remember is that we are all trans. We are all doing our best to live our truth, and as trans people we make each other stronger. 


Popularity over time

There was a surge in popularity of neopronouns between 1850 and 1884, with several new ones invented in this period, including ne (1850), heesh (1860), er (1863), ve (1864), en, han, and un (1868), le (1871), e (1878), and ip (1884).


There were also small rises in the popularity of neopronouns in the 1970s and 1990s. 


And then there is today. Neopronouns are becoming increasingly common as the nonbinary movement grows. Earlier this year both the Rolling Stone, and the New York Times published articles about neopronouns. The New York Times article focuses on nounself pronouns, where a noun, like bunny, is turned into a pronoun, such as bun/buns/bunself. This article highlights neopronoun usage among online communities of young people, especially young autistic people. The Rolling Stone article puts neopronouns into historical context, and has several revealing quotes from interviews with people who go by neopronouns about what it means to them and why it’s important. Grammarly, an online writing assistant, also began supporting neopronouns based on user feedback.


The Gender Census indicates that more nonbinary people are going by neopronouns than ever before. Below are the results from the 2021 Gender Census for various pronouns and the percentage of nonbinary people who go by them:


they/them - 79.2%

she/her - 31.7%

he/him - 33.8%

Mix it up - 17.2%

Avoid pronouns/use name as pronoun - 12.6%

Any - 10.9%

Xe/xem - 8.5%

Questioning or unknown - 8.8%

Set of pronouns not listed here - 8.7%

It/its - 9.3%

Fae/faer - 6.1%

e/em - 4.3%

ze/hir - 4.2%

What this means about society’s shifting understanding of gender

As our understanding of gender is broadening, our language is broadening to accommodate that because language is a reflection of the way we think. As we learn more about the history of the invention of the gender binary, thanks to amazing researchers and educators like Alok, we are able to see that the binary is not innate, but human constructed, and that it has been violently enforced throughout history. As we grow to understand that human experience includes a vast diversity of gender identities and expressions, and has everywhere in the world throughout all of human history, genderqueer people today are feeling empowered to create language to describe their experiences that has nothing to do with the gender binary, a system that has oppressed and erased people like us for centuries. 

Sources:

2021 Gender Census GC2021 Pronouns

Alok’s Instagram Gender Nonconformity Isn’t New: A History of the Fairy

Business Insider A Vancouver School Board Just Changed The English Pronouns We All Know

Camp Transmissions - Interview with Leslie Feinberg

Merriam Webster We added a gender-neutral pronoun in 1934. Why have so few people heard of it?

Rolling Stone Beyond They/Them: What Are Neopronouns?

The New York Times A Guide to Neopronouns

The Trevor Project Research Brief: Pronouns Usage Among LGBTQ Youth

Tumblr Pronouns I have encountered in no particular order [fae pronoun origin]

University of Illinoi Blog Nonbinary pronouns are older than you think

Your Dictionary Xe meaning

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