Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) referred to “Latinx” Americans in the opening moments of the first Democratic primary debate Wednesday night, a sign the term will likely be used by candidates over the course of the 2020 cycle. Progressives in the party’s base are undoubtedly familiar with it, but plenty of viewers probably heard the word for the first time on Wednesday.
Latinx is a gender-neutral substitute for Latino/Latina. It’s popular in academic circles, but is used increasingly as the politically correct label by progressives in Democratic politics. Merriam-Webster added the term to its dictionary in September 2018. The word can be used to describe people who identify as “non-binary,” or more broadly as a sex-neutral descriptor.
In regards to the oft-botched pronunciation, Merriam-Webster says:
More than likely, there was little consideration for how it was supposed to be pronounced when it was created. Nevertheless, people have attempted to assign some pronunciations to it. The most common way to pronounce Latinx is the same way you would Spanish-derived Latina or Latino but pronouncing the ‘x’ as the name of the English letter X. So you get something like \luh-TEE-neks\.
Even some proponents of the term believe it’s elitist. In March, NBC News quoted one Texas professor saying, “I am just a few miles from the Mexican border. If I were going down to the local taquería, they wouldn’t know what you are saying if you used the term.”
According to the report, one activist said:
Latinos ‘still struggle with educational advancement, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, police brutality, predatory bank practices, discrimination, crime and violence, low literacy, immigration and labor exploitation, diabetes, etc., but suddenly gender nouns are the priority.’
While Warren’s early answer may have opened the door for the term’s wider use in the primary, that wasn’t the case on Wednesday. Moderator Rachel Maddow used “Latino” when questioning candidates later in the debate. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, the only Hispanic candidate in the race, used “Latino” as well.
Whether it becomes standardized in the primary could depend on what the second batch of debaters decides on Thursday night. If Warren’s use is perceived to have gone over well with voters, expect more candidates to follow suit.