Gender Census 2018: Non-binary vs. nonbinary

Original Tumblr post

The survey took place between 1st February and 25th March 2018, and there were 11,241 respondents, of which 1,528 said they were living in the UK.

The first question in the survey was: How do you think this word should be spelled? The options were:

  • nonbinary
  • non-binary
  • non binary
  • I don’t know/I don’t care
  • Other [text box]

The first three options, bolded, were randomised. I asked this question first because there was also a question about how people identify, and I had to choose a spelling for the checkbox option for nonbinary, and I didn’t want my choice for the survey to sway the results of this question. I also avoided using the word nonbinary in all promotional materials.

You can see the Google Sheets file of the results for just this question here.

The results for the UK compared to the worldwide results were very different!

Please note that the worldwide results include the UK results, and the “Everyone” results include the responses from nonbinary people.
Please note that the “Everyone” results include the responses from nonbinary people.

I was surprised by this, but in hindsight I think perhaps I shouldn’t have been – a few people commented in the “other” box that nonbinary is the American grammatical convention, whereas non-binary is the British one. This would explain the way UK-based respondents preferred non-binary over nonbinary.

I think it’s interesting that people who are nonbinary are more likely to omit the hyphen, even in the UK.

In the table above, the percentages add up to more than 100% because some people used the “other” text box to express a preference for two of the options.

1 in 5 respondents have no preference among those three options. Many said that it should be up to the individual nonbinary person to choose how they spell it, or that they would follow the instructions in a style guide, or that they dislike linguistic prescriptivism and all three spellings are valid. Most of the “other” entries were either blank or people spelling words other than nonbinary, such as enby or transgender.

This was the one-off question this year, and I think the results are fairly straight-forward! I asked because I see people spelling the word in various different ways and I was curious to know which was most popular. When being considered for inclusion in English dictionaries the most common spelling is usually the one entered in the dictionary, and in this way the “correct” spelling of a word according to English dictionaries can change over time. (There are some exceptions, such as minuscule.)

I guess ultimately I wanted to know if there was a “correct” spelling that I (and style guides) should adhere to, and I am glad to know that when writing about nonbinary issues for UK resources I should include the hyphen.