The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) usually names a single word that defines a year, but such has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that 2020 cannot be neatly accommodated in one word – it has identified ‘words of an unprecedented year’.
They include unmute, WFH, lockdown, superspreader, Zoombombing (on the lines of photobombing), remotely, pandemic, on the frontline, mask-shaming, social distancing, physical distancing, circuit-breaker, support bubbles, keyworkers, furlough’.
OED said: “What was genuinely unprecedented this year was the hyper-speed at which the English-speaking world amassed a new collective vocabulary relating to the coronavirus, and how quickly it became, in many instances, a core part of the language.”
“Even back in April we noted that the frequency of the word coronavirus had exceeded one of the most frequently used nouns in the English language, time, as detected by our corpus data. 2020 brought a new immediacy and urgency to the role of the lexicographer”.
“In almost real-time, lexicographers were able to monitor and analyse seismic shifts in language data and precipitous frequency rises in new coinages”, it said on Monday.
OED divided the words according to the themes: the language of Covid-19, technology and remote working, the environment, social movements and social media, and politics and economics.
It said that from the sobering discourse of pandemics and politics, to the light-hearted neologisms that have emerged in times of darkness, language is the common thread connecting these shared experiences across the globe.
Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, said: “I’ve never witnessed a year in language like the one we’ve just had. The Oxford team was identifying hundreds of significant new words and usages as the year unfolded, dozens of which would have been a slam dunk for Word of the Year at any other time”.
“It’s both unprecedented and a little ironic – in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other.”