The Oxford English Dictionary has always chosen a single Word of the Year, but 2020 is an entirely different beast.
Every year the Oxford English Dictionary names its Word Of The Year—a word that has entered our vernacular and stayed there due to the circumstances of the year. Last year’s phrase of the year was ‘climate emergency’, due to the huge discussion that society had, and is still having, about the environment, global warming, and pollution. If you think that classing ‘climate emergency’ as a word and not a term was a bit cheeky of the old OED, then you’ll be blown away by this year’s addition(s).
In all seriousness, it has been a difficult year for everyone and it is certainly true that our vocabularies have expanded to include a host of new terms and words. It turns out that even the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary has been blindsided this year by the influx of new words into everyday language, so much so that they haven’t been able to choose just one Word Of The Year. Instead, there are several. Here are just a few of them.
This is a word that needs no explanation, really. It’s turned the world upside down this year. Although the word has existed for many years to describe coronaviruses with which we were already familiar, this year the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has thrust this word front and centre into our vocabularies. It is now ‘one of the most frequently used nouns in the English language’, according to The Guardian.
Coronavirus is also responsible for a multitude of other Words of the Year, including ‘support bubbles’, ‘social distancing’, ‘reopening’, ‘PPE’, ‘face mask’, and, of course, ‘furlough’.
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter is a phrase that has been used for years but this year it has been on the front of newspapers. It has also been worn on t-shirts, face masks and chanted the world over. The death of unarmed black man George Floyd Jr. in May sparked a huge wave of protests, in every continent on Earth. As the fight for equality continues, the use of this term has grown exponentially this year.
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Society was already familiar with the term ‘impeachment’ due to the proceedings brought against President Bill Clinton in 1998-9. However, in December of 2019, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump and ‘impeachment’ became an everyday part of our vocabulary once again.
Other words listed by the OED include ‘cancel culture’, ‘decolonize’, ‘wet-market’, ‘wokeness’, and ‘bushfires’. It just goes to show that this year’s happenings have been pretty unprecedented. Here’s to our vocabulary expanding even further in 2021, hopefully under more pleasant circumstances.