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Sweden Just Added A Gender-Neutral Pronoun To Its Dictionary

It also removed or added alternatives to words considered racist.

Posted on March 24, 2015, at 3:40 p.m. ET

The official dictionary of the Swedish language, The SAOL, is adding a gender-neutral pronoun to its latest edition, The Guardian reported.

Tkacchuk / Getty Images

The pronoun, "hen," (pronounced like a female chicken), will join "han" (he) and "hon" (she) as the official gender pronouns of the Swedish language.

"Hen" can be used to refer to a transgender person, a group of people of mixed genders, a person who chooses not to identify with a gender, or when discussing someone whose gender is irrelevant.

"Hen" was coined in the '60s in protest of the use of the male pronoun to describe any group or population that doesn't exclusively contain females. This is the practice in many European languages.

A Gay Rights rally in Stockholm, Sweden in 2013.
Erik Martensson / AP

A Gay Rights rally in Stockholm, Sweden in 2013.

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The word didn't become widely used until Sweden's growing transgender community adopted it in the early 2000s. It soon caught on with the rest of the population.

The Guardian reported it's since been used in court rulings, media texts and books, along with other official texts.

"You hear it all the time on TV shows, radio, and magazines, and you don't even think about it anymore," Astrid Öhman, a Swedish resident and recent college graduate, told BuzzFeed News. "I was confused by it when I first heard it a few years ago, but now it's just another word in our dictionary – though with an important purpose, of course."

An LGBT themed crosswalk in Stockholm, Sweden.
Afp / Getty Images

An LGBT themed crosswalk in Stockholm, Sweden.

As well as adding "hen," the dictionary will also remove or add alternatives to words considered racist or otherwise offensive.

The Local reported that the dictionary will remove words like "negerboll" (negro ball), a Swedish sweet, and next to words like "neger," meaning negro, "zigenare," meaning gypsy, and "lapp," which The Local defined as "a derogatory term for an indigenous Sami person from Lappland," the dictionary will recommend alternative words such as "svart," meaning black, and "rom," meaning Roma.

The SAOL dictionary is updated every 10 years. The newest edition will contain 13,000 new words and offensive word alternatives. It will be on sale on April 15.

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