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What is the term 'Latinx' and why is it polarizing?

A recent poll found that 30% of voters are less likely to vote for politicians who use the term Latinx in reference to the Hispanic community.
People voting in voting booths
A recent poll has found that 30% of respondents from voters of Hispanic origin would be less likely to vote for a politician who used the term "Latinx."SDI Productions / Getty Images stock

Is Latinx an accepted term to describe the nation's Hispanic population or one that could turn off potential voters? It depends on whom you ask.

A recent nationwide poll by the business management consulting firm Bendixen & Amandi International of 800 registered voters of Hispanic origin put a spotlight on the term by showing the divided reaction to it.

The poll, completed last month, found that 40% of the respondents said that the term bothers or offends them, and 30% said they would be less likely to vote for a politician who uses it.

Here's what you need to know about the polarizing term.

What does Latinx mean and how is it pronounced?

Latinx has generally been used since the early 2010s as a gender-neutral term for members of the Latin American or Hispanic communities in place of gendered terms like Latino or Latina. Nouns in Spanish typically end in an "o" for masculine words and an "a" for feminine ones.

Latinx has become particularly adopted by members of the LGBTQ community who may not want to be identified by a specific gender. The term became more prominently used in 2016 after the mass shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub Pulse in Orlando.

There also is some confusion about how the term is pronounced. Merriam-Webster dictionary says it's pronounced "luh-TEE-neks," but it's also frequently pronounced "Latin-ex," with "Lah-tinks" as another pronunciation, according to the Latin American culture site Remezcla.

Actor Vico Ortiz, who is nonbinary, spoke to TODAY for Hispanic Heritage Month in September about the push for more inclusive terms in the Spanish language to refer to LGBTQ Latinx people.

“In Latin America, there’s been a great deal of progress around gay and lesbian identities,” Ortiz said. “But with being transgender and nonbinary, a lot of people are still unsure what it all means, and I believe it’s connected to the words we use.

"Spanish language is incredibly binary and it informs the way we see the world," Ortiz continued. "The language is very male-centered and anything else is treated as an other. I use neutral pronouns to include and honor everyone and call attention to how this gendered language has done everything it can to erase people.”

The term was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2018 as it became more widespread.

How widely is it used?

The poll by Bendixen & Amandi International found that only 2% of the respondents referred to themselves as Latinx, compared to 68% who used the term Hispanic and 21% who used Latino or Latina.

“The numbers strongly suggest that the use of this term may actually be counterproductive, as opposed to productive, because only 2% of Hispanic voters nationally embrace the term,” Fernand Amandi, the firm’s principal, told NBC News.

A 2019 bilingual survey of U.S. Hispanic adults by Pew Research Center found that only 23% of U.S. adults who identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves.

The term has mainly been used by academics, activists and the younger generation, particularly Hispanic women ages 18 to 29, according to Pew. It also has been adopted by the LGBTQ community.

“We are making a conscious choice to show we exist by disrupting this language,” Ortiz told TODAY in September. “We’ve always existed. That’s why we keep popping up. Language is alive and it evolves. Language is there to express who we are. We don’t speak the same language from 50, 100 or 200 years ago. Every word we have is made up, so we’re disrupting it and we’ll make something up that is inclusive for all people.”

Finding an all-encompassing term can be a challenge. Former TODAY co-host Natalie Morales spoke in September about how she has been told in her life she's alternately "not Latin enough" or not white enough. Morales is half Brazilian and half Puerto Rican.

"When someone says — based on the color of my skin or the fact that I don’t have an accent when speaking English — that I am not Latin or Hispanic enough, I always say, 'What is your definition of what a Latinx person is supposed to be?'” Morales said. "From Mexico to the Caribbean to Central and South America, the Hispanic and Latinx labels are so broad and encompass many in-betweens, but this doesn’t make us any less of a part of this community. Whether one speaks Spanish or not doesn’t even matter, as many of us were taught by our immigrant parents to assimilate and blend in culturally."

What is the difference between Latinx and Hispanic?

Latinx is a term popularized by academics, activists and the LGBTQ community, whereas Hispanic is a term formalized by the U.S. government.

A group of Spanish-speaking federal employees on the Ad Hoc Committee on Racial and Ethnic Definitions chose the word "Hispanic" in 1975 to represent people with mixed Spanish heritage, according to The Washington Post.

The word first appeared on census forms in 1980 after a debate over using Hispanic or Latino as the designated term.

Hispanic derives from Hispana, meaning descended from the people of Spain. Some people prefer the term Latino, which refers to the Latin-based languages of Spain, France, Italy and Portugal, because Hispanic has a connotation of the imperial conquests of Spain. Hispanic also does not encompass people from Brazil, for instance, who speak Portuguese.

Why is Latinx important politically?

Amandi suggests his poll's findings mean that the term could be a turnoff for a significant number of voters.

"Up to 40% are saying that this term either bothers or offends them, which in my mind suggests the potential costs outweigh the benefits," he told NBC News.

The findings raise the question of whether the Latinx term could alienate potential voters as Republicans fight for a growing share of the Hispanic vote while Democrats aim to take back the gains made among Hispanic voters by Republicans in the 2020 election in battleground states like Texas and Florida.

The term was not widely discussed in any debates leading up to the 2020 election in which former President Donald Trump gained 8 percentage points among Latino voters from the 2016 election. Issues like the pandemic and immigration figured much more heavily into the campaigns than any mention of the Latinx term.

Using Latinx also may depend on the difference between addressing an older audience unreceptive to the term, and younger voters who are more comfortable with it.

“Just because you’re trying to be inclusive with one portion doesn’t mean you’re necessarily alienating another portion,” Angelica Luna-Kaufman, a senior director for the Texas Democratic Party, told MSNBC.

An editorial in the Miami Herald, which serves a large Latino community, called for the term to be dropped by progressives.

"Every time a Democratic politician uses the term, a Republican operative celebrates," the editorial reads. "It’s just what the GOP needs to make the case that Democrats are too busy being 'woke' to worry about the everyday-life concerns of Americans."