25 Nov 2020

Oxford English Dictionary has too many Words of the Year to name just one in 2020

8:49 am on 25 November 2020

Every year the Oxford English Dictionary chooses a Word of the Year that captures the spirit of the past 12 months.

A young woman wearing a face mask at a bus stop.

Covid-19 related words featured strongly in the Oxford list. Photo: AFP

But in a year like 2020, just one word didn't cut it.

Instead, the dictionary has chosen "Words of the Year" - including bushfires, Covid-19, lockdown, bubbles, key workers, conspiracy theory and Black Lives Matter.

Fiona Macpherson is an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary said unsurprisingly a lot of the words that featured this year were Covid-related.

"So Covid-19 itself is one of the few words that we're discussing that's actually brand new this year, it didn't exist before February, and obviously now it's on everybody's lips and in everybody's conversation."

She said coronavirus is a word that goes back to the 1960s but until now it was more likely to be used by medical professionals or epidemiologists where as now everybody is talking about it.

Macpherson said she is fascinated by the use of other Covid-related words such as lockdown, social distancing and bubbles.

"I mean these are all words for me that it's quite fascinating to think about because although most of them existed before with a couple of exceptions, they weren't really words that we talked about or used that often.

"Yet this year's been so eventful and forced us to change the ways that we behave and the way we live our life so much that these words are completely in all of our conversations and that's really really amazing how quickly that happened and on such a global level - but then that's surprising given the global nature of a pandemic."

The use of the word 'pandemic' has increased by 5700 percent, which Macpherson said is mind-blowing.

"Bushfires" is one of the non-Covid words which saw a huge increase in usage this year.

Macpherson said the word saw a huge surge in usage during the earlier part of this year.

"So that's gone from being talked about so much to slipping off the radar somewhat, as other things which have taken more centre stage have come into being."

Asked what her word of the year would be Macpherson said it was obvious to go for something Covid-related, but then that is quite negative.

"Anthropause is one that I'm quite partial to ... an anthropause straddles the environmental aspect as well as the Covid, so that's basically a pause in human activity, we've all had to face restrictions in where we can go, where we can travel, what we're able to do and that's given nature a little bit of a chance to recuperate from ... everything that humans do to nature.

"You've got fish appearing again in the Grand Canal in Venice and other kinds of wildlife being left alone so they're back in their habitats moving about more freely and I like that because it's nice to have a new word and one that's got a little bit more of a positive spin on it."

For the record in 2019 the Word of the Year was climate emergency, in 2018 it was toxic and in 2017 it was youthquake.

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