All major dictionaries, every year, select a word as Word of the Year.
Towards December most prominent dictionary compilers announce their chosen word of the year. Their compilation is usually based on the events that have happened in the preceding time period. Sometimes something big might have happened in the political world to prompt that use of that word or it might be a word that simply caught on in the media or the entertainment industry through over-use.
Three main English dictionaries come immediately to mind, that is in terms of the most used around the English speaking world. The Oxford English Dictionary and the Collins Dictionary are more familiar to British English speakers and the Merriam Webster’s is more popular with the Americans. Each dictionary had its own unique winner for the years 2013 to 2020.
It’s noteworthy that sometimes the choices made by dictionaries appear not to have a common theme for that year. Let’s take 2013, for example. Whereas the Oxford Dictionary chose ‘selfie’ as their word of the year, Collins chose ‘Geek’. Everyone knows what these words mean but the choices of the two have no commonality to one another at all. The same might apply to words chosen the following year. Collins chose ‘photobomb’ whereas Oxford chose ‘vape’. For those who don’t know what photobomb means, it’s the act of ruining someone else’s, usually strangers’, photos while they are being taken by randomly appearing in them making ridiculous gestures. Vape, on the other hand, comes from the act of smoking those e-cigarettes; so inhaling them is not called smoking, it’s called ‘vaping’.
Now a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words and the Oxford Dictionary certainly thinks so because in 2015 it actually nominated the laughing emoji as their word of the year; you know, the one with the tears running down a laughing face? Collins, on the other hand, decided that their word of the year would be ‘binge-watch’, meaning to watch a series of shows or movies one after another without stopping in between to watch something else.
Both dictionaries chose 2 completely different words for 2016. Don’t forget 2016 was the year of the UK EU referendum so one would think that the choice of word would be glaringly obvious to both. However, Brexit was only chosen by Collins. Oxford, on the other hand, chose ‘post-truth’ which might have been one of the key reasons for Brexit. But another reason that might have contributed to Brexit is ‘Fake News’ which was chosen by Collins as their winner for the following year. Oxford decided that ‘youth-quake’ was what contributed to Brexit. Again, if you’ve not heard of this phrase, and I hadn’t, it refers to a metaphorical quake created by young people’s movements to bring about a radical social or cultural change.
It’s interesting that a lot of the choices, and runners up, came about as a result of the Trump Presidency. For example, he often uttered phrases that caught on. For instance, he labelled mainstream news outlets as ‘Fake News’, the 2017 choice by Collins. Trump and his administration were famous for using phrases like fake news, alternative facts and bigly. Oh wait, he never said that, did he?
Although the Oxford Dictionary has yet to announce its 2020 word of the year, every single person on the planet can relate to Collins’ choice. What one word describes 2020 to you? Coronavirus? Contact Tracing? Quarantine? Or Social Distancing? They chose ‘Lockdown’ which is very apt. I wonder if Oxford will also choose the same word.
As I’m sure you’ll agree, there are indeed many ‘gems’ to choose from this year. Let me make a few predictions. I might be off the mark, of course, but it might be fun just to see if any of my guesses come out right. I’d guess Coronavirus, Covid-19, Quarantine, Social Distancing, the mantra Stay Home/Stay Safe, work from home, Self-Isolate, the new normal, masks, video conferencing and Global Reset (for the sceptics among us).
As I explained, none of Merriam Webster’s choices made any sense to me considering the significant events that have transpired in the last 5 years. That being said, amongst all of their words, the only one that stood out to me was their 2016 winner, ‘Bigly’, a word which has repeatedly been attributed to President Trump. He didn’t actually say the word but it comes about from people mishearing him. What he actually said was ‘big league’ but to listeners it sounded like bigly.