Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary has published its first Word of the Decade findings after allowing a week of voting. The entrants were the words and phrases from the last 10 years as selected by the Committee and the public: burkini, cancel culture, captain’s call, covidiot, doomscrolling, fake news, first world problem, fracking, framily, halal snack pack, infovore, Karen, mansplain, Me Too, milkshake duck, onesie, phantom vibration syndrome, robodebt, rona, share plate and single-use. ‘Fake news’ just beat ‘mansplain’ for the top spot.
Other dictionaries, style guides and language-oriented groups mostly have words of the year, with only one other selecting a word for the decade. The American Dialect Society (ADS) counts a decade from the zero to the nine, so in early 2000 they chose singular ‘they’ as their word of the decade 2010–2019. It beat ‘meme’ by 128 votes to 110. Their 2020 word of the year was ‘Covid’. The ADS also publishes other lists; in 2009, the words ‘naughties, aughties, oughties, etc.’ won the category ‘least likely to succeed’ as alternative names for the decade 2000–2009. Now, 10 years later, what do we call those years? Mostly just ‘two thousands’ where I’m from, but this varies a lot by region.
Oxford University Press normally publishes a word for each year in the US and the UK, but decided that 2020 had such enormous language change that the year could not be ‘neatly accommodated in one single word’. They said that even by April 2020, the word ‘coronavirus’ had become more frequent than the word ‘time’, one of the most frequently used nouns in English.
Word of the year is also a feature where English is not the first language. The Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (Association for the German Language) has been announcing a word of the year since 1972. It’s no surprise that the word for 2020 is Corona-Pandemie.
Here are some other countries’ top words for last year, predictably also to do with the health-related events of 2020:
- Denmark: ‘samfundssind’ – ‘community spirit’ or ‘social mindedness’
- Netherlands: anderhalvemetersamenleving – ‘1.5 metre society’
- Japan: ぴえん (pien) – ‘sadness’ or ‘disappointment’
- Portugal: ‘saudade’ – ‘longing’ or ‘nostalgia’.
In Russia there was a slightly different focus for the winner (although all the runners-up were still to do with the pandemic): обнуление (zeroing out), which appeared in the context of changing the Constitution so that Vladimir Putin’s previous presidential terms could be erased and he could start again.
Many of us would like to start again in some capacity after the events of last year, so let’s hope the word for 2021 is something to do with ‘healing’ or ‘hope’ or ‘cure’.
Or maybe we can hark back to the two thousands and make fetch happen?