CAPE TOWN – Every year, the home of world-renowned language data, Oxford Languages, releases its word of the year. However, due to this unprecedented time, the institution has decided to select several official words of the year.
According to a statement issued by the institution, the English language has undergone enormous change over the past year, adapting rapidly and repeatedly to world events.
The institute said that words that 12 months ago we couldn’t have imagined ourselves using are now part of the everyday lexicon.
The “Words of an Unprecedented Year” report allowed the team at Oxford Languages to share the evidence-based data to analyse the unfolding story.
The institution said that recording and analysing new words and their uses offered unique insight into understanding the current situation and navigating these “unprecedented times”.
Previously, the Oxford Word of the Year was selected as a word or expression shown through usage evidence to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations of the past 12 months and to have potential as a term of lasting cultural significance.
So what are some of the words that made the cut for 2020?
According to the report, “coronavirus” was previously mainly used by scientific and medical specialists, but by April 2020 it had become one of the most frequently used nouns in the English language, exceeding even the usage of the word “time”.
By May, it had been surpassed by “Covid-19”.
The word “pandemic” has seen usage increase by over 57,000% this year.
Words such as “circuit breaker“, ”lockdown“ and “shelter-in-place” also saw a huge increase in usage from March.
The words “bubbles”, “pods”, “face masks”, “face coverings”, “key workers”, “frontliners” and ”essential workers“ were also a few of the most used words of the year.
With millions of people working from home, two words that have seen more than a 300% usage growth since March are “remote” and “remotely”. “Un mute” and “mute” also ranked pretty high in the usage category, along with “workcation” and “staycation”.
The report further revealed that this year saw a surge in demonstrations and activism that were reflected in our language.
In June, “Black Lives Matter” and the abbreviated ”BLM” surged in usage and have remained high since.
Other words at the top of the list included “conspiracy theory” which almost doubled between October 2019 and October 2020, as well as “QAnon”, “impeachment“, ”acquittal“ and ”mail-in“.
Interesting to note is that the word “Brexit” saw an 80% reduction in usage this year.
According to the report, there has also been the introduction of a new word – “anthropause”, referring to the global slowdown of travel and other human activity and the subsequent welcome consequences, such as a decrease in light and noise pollution, the institute wrote.