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Oxford’s 2020 Word of the Year? Well, It’s Unprecedented – Times of India

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Oxford Languages’ annual Word of the Year is often a tribute to the protean creativity of English and the truth of constant linguistic change, throwing a highlight on zeitgeisty neologisms like “selfie,” “vape” and “unfriend.”
Sure, it isn’t all lexicographic fun and frolic. 2017 noticed the triumph of “toxic.” Last 12 months, the winner was “climate emergency.”
But then got here 2020, and you-know-what.
This 12 months, Oxford Languages, the writer of the Oxford English Dictionary, has forgone the collection of a single phrase in favor of highlighting the coronavirus pandemic’s swift and sudden linguistic impact on English.
“What struck the team as most distinctive in 2020 was the sheer scale and scope of change,” Katherine Connor Martin, the corporate’s head of product, mentioned in an interview. “This event was experienced globally and by its nature changed the way we express every other thing that happened this year.”
The Word of the Year is predicated on utilization proof drawn from Oxford’s frequently up to date corpus of greater than 11 billion phrases, gathered from information sources throughout the English-speaking world. The choice is supposed “to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of the previous 12 months, whereas additionally having “lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”
The 2020 report does spotlight some zippy new coinages, like “Blursday” (which captures the best way the week blends collectively), “covidiots” (you already know who you’re) and “doomscrolling” (who, me?). But largely, it underlines how the pandemic has totally dominated public dialog, and given us a brand new collective vocabulary virtually in a single day.
Take, for starters, “pandemic”: Use of the time period elevated greater than 57,000% since final 12 months. “Coronavirus” — a phrase coined in 1968, however till this 12 months little used exterior medical contexts — additionally surged, breaking away from run-of-the-mill topical phrases.
Back in January, it was neck-and-neck with “impeachment,” then surging due to the proceedings towards President Donald Trump. But by April, “coronavirus” had change into probably the most frequent nouns in English, overtaking even stalwarts like “time.”
And that, Martin mentioned, is very uncommon, even perhaps unprecedented (one other phrase, by the best way, whose utilization soared, in accordance with the report). Usually, when a topical phrase surges, she mentioned, “it becomes more common relative to other topical words, but not relative to words we all say in English all the time.”
The Oxford report additionally highlights phrases and phrases regarding social justice, together with “Black Lives Matter,” “Juneteenth,” “decolonize,” and “allyship,” a few of which surged dramatically beginning in late May, amid the protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody. But these will increase, whereas notable, have been nowhere close to these of pandemic-related phrases.
And the pandemic might have really diminished the frequency of different topical phrases. Last 12 months, Oxford launched an all-climate associated shortlist, topped by “climate emergency.” But in March, because the pandemic took maintain, the frequency of the phrase “climate” itself abruptly plunged by virtually 50%.
(Usage has since rebounded a bit, and the report additionally flagged the emergence of some new climate-related phrases, like “anthropause,” proposed in an article within the journal Nature in June to explain the sudden drastic discount in human mobility, and its affect on the pure world.)
The pandemic turned once-obscure public-health terminology like “social distancing” or “flatten the curve” into family phrases, and made phrases and phrases like “lockdown” and “stay-at-home” frequent. More subtly, it additionally altered utilization patterns for ho-hum phrases like “remote” and “remotely.”
Previously, the most typical collocates (as lexicographers name phrases that seem most continuously collectively) of “remote” have been “village,” “island” and “control.” This 12 months, Martin mentioned, they have been “learning,” “working” and “work force.”
The Oxford report additionally highlights elevated use of “in-person,” typically in retronyms, as lexicographers seek advice from a brand new time period for an present factor that distinguishes the unique from a brand new variant. (For instance: “land line” or “cloth diaper.”) In 2020, it turned more and more essential to specify “in-person” voting, studying, worship and so forth.
Most years, a whole lot of the enjoyable of Oxford’s shortlist comes from portmanteaus, or mix phrases, like “mansplain” or “broflake.” But this 12 months, even the neologisms have been a bit downbeat. For each “covidiot” and “Blursday,” there was a “twindemic” (the concurrence of two epidemics) and an “infodemic” (an anxiety-arousing explosion of pandemic-related info).
So … is it truthful to say that in 2020, even the phrases have been, properly, sort of horrible?
Martin declined to be so destructive. But she confessed to some nostalgia for the times of playful, dare-you-to-put-it-in-the-dictionary coinages like “lumbersexual,” from Oxford’s 2015 shortlist.
She mentioned she hoped 2021 would carry extra “fun, positive words that didn’t seem to hold the weight of the world on their shoulders.”



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