2021 was a year defined by the many ongoing impacts of the pandemic, and sadly, it saw a continuation of the polarization of 2020. How do you sum up the year with a single word? But there is a word that encompasses so many of the things we’ve experienced in 2021: allyship, Dictionary.com‘s 2021 Word of the Year.
Dictoinary.com defines allyship as “the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.”
The word allyship combines the noun ally, “a person who advocates for or supports a marginalized or politicized group but is not a member of the group,” and –ship, a noun-forming suffix here denoting “status, condition.”
Developing out of the word’s general meaning of “supporter,” the use of “ally” in contexts of social justice is first evidenced as early as the 1940s in an article by Albert W. Hamilton on “allies on the front of racial justice” for Black people. The article, notably, features the term “white allies.” Another now-common term, “straight allies” —non-LGBTQ+ supporters of the LGBTQ+ community— dates back to at least the 1970s.
The word “allyship” is the first time Dictionary.com has chosen a word that’s new to their dictionary as their Word of the Year. The website said it captures important ways the word continues to evolve and reflects its increased prominence in our dialogue with one another.
Other words in their Word of the Year shortlist include critical race theory, burnout, and vaccine, all of which resonated in 2021.
But allyship has the power to bring us all together, and in trying and divided times, the word gives much-needed hope and optimism for the future.