Dictionary.com names allyship as word of the year for 2021

Allyship, an old noun made new, is Dictionary.com’s word of the year.

The site with 70 million monthly users took the unusual step of anointing a word it added just last month, though “allyship” first surfaced in the mid-1800s, said content overseer John Kelly.

“It might be a surprising choice for some," Egli ha detto. “In the past few decades, the term has evolved to take on a more nuanced and specific meaning. It is continuing to evolve and we saw that in many ways.”

The site offers two definitions for allyship: the role of a person who advocates for inclusion of a “marginalized or politicized group” in solidarity but not as a member, and the more traditional relationship of “persons, groups or nations associating and cooperating with one another for a common cause or purpose”.

The word is set apart from “alliance”, which Dictionary.com defines in one sense as a “merging of efforts or interests by persons, families, states or organizations”.

The first definition of allyship took off in the mid-2000s. Following the summer of 2020 and the death of George Floyd, white allies – and the word allyship – proliferated as racial justice demonstrations spread. Before that, straight allies joined the causes of LGBTQ oppression, discrimination and marginalization.

“This year, we saw a lot of businesses and organizations very prominently, publicly, beginning efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Allyship is tied to that. In the classroom, there is a flashpoint around the term ‘critical race theory’. Allyship connects with this as well,” Kelly said.

Teachers, frontline workers and mothers who juggled jobs, home duties and child care in lockdown gained allies as the pandemic took hold last year.

Without an entry for “allyship”, Kelly said the site saw a steep rise in lookups for “ally” in 2020 and large increases in 2021. It was in the top 850 searches out of thousands and thousands of words this year. Dictionary.com broadened the definition of “ally” to include the more nuanced meaning.

The terms “DEI” and “critical race theory” made their debuts as entries on the site with “allyship” this year.

One of the aspects of allyship is how badly it can go. Among examples of how to use the word cited by Merriam-Webster is this one by Native activist Hallie Sebastian: “Poor allyship is speaking over marginalized people by taking credit and receiving recognition for arguments that the unprivileged have been making for their entire lives.”

On the other side of allyship, Kelly said, “is a feeling of division, of polarization. That was 6 January” and the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump. Allyship, Egli ha detto, became a powerful prism in terms of the dichotomy at a chaotic cultural time during the last two years.

Other dictionary companies in the word of the year game focused on the pandemic and its fallout. The Oxford English Dictionary went for “vax” and Merriam-Webster chose “vaccino". Collins Dictionary picked “NFT”, digital tokens that sell for millions.

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