In the last few years, the word Latinx has gained momentum – appearing in emails from politicians to TV shows like One Day at a Time to mainstream media. However, the word is the source of many a heated argument. Latinx – which has existed online since at least 2004 – arose as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino and Latina. However, some believe that Latino already effectively groups a large number of men and women with Latin American origins and that substituting the “o” for the “x” unnecessarily complicates the language. And while the Real Academia Española – the official source on the Spanish language – may fall into this camp, Merriam Webster is fully embracing the term.
In an entry updated on August 21, the dictionary defined Latinx as: “of, relating to, or marked by Latin American heritage —used as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina.” It’s certainly a noteworthy addition to the dictionary, although it’s a simple definition that doesn’t touch on how the Spanish language tends to default to the male gender. For example, if one man joins a crowd made up entirely of women, they collectively become Latinos. To address this issue, some have used the term Lain@. However, this term only defines masculine and feminine identities, excluding those who identify as agender, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, gender questioning, nonbinary, and genderqueer.
Merriam-Webster has had the word Latinx in its sights since at least 2017. That year, it acknowledged the increased usage of the term. “Though Latinx is becoming common in social media and in academic writing, it is unclear whether it will catch on in mainstream use,” the post reads. “Nevertheless, it is gaining noticeable traction among the general public as a gender-inclusive term for Latin Americans of diverse identities and orientations.”
But in about the span of a year, the word has gone from “words we’re watching” to “words at play.” In a September blog post, it announced more than 840 new words, including hangry, biohacking, TL;DR, bingeable, and Latinx.