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Merriam-Webster just added "cisgender" and "genderqueer" to its dictionary

Big news for LGBTQ folks: On Wednesday, Merriam-Webster announced that it added the words "cisgender" and "genderqueer" to its unabridged dictionary.

What do those words mean? Here are Merriam-Webster's definitions:

  • Cisgender: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.
  • Genderqueer: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female.

The additions reflect how society is expanding its discussions over gender identity, gender expression, and transgender issues: As conversations about gender broaden, the vocabulary used in these conversations is set to change, too.

The vocabulary around gender is a fairly tricky part of discussing these issues today. Pronouns, for example, can get difficult when someone doesn't identify as male or female. Do you refer to them as they instead of he or she, or use one of the invented pronouns like ne, ve, ey, ze, or xe? (Generally, the advice from LGBTQ groups is to just ask and use what people prefer.)

What pronoun do you use for a transgender person? Whatever they use for themselves. Javier Zarracina/Vox

But how do you refer to an uncle or aunt if they identify as genderqueer — so male or female don't necessarily apply to them? Or niece and nephew? These are issues that we just don't have good answers to, but will likely get worked out eventually. After all, language is hugely adaptive and changing all the time. (Update: A reader points out "nibling" is already used to address a sibling's offspring in a gender-neutral way.)

So Merriam-Webster's additions show the vocabulary we use for gender is changing, but there's still a lot more change likely to come.

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