Inside FutureX / January 28, 2021

Words have power

Each year the Oxford English Dictionary’s team of expert lexicographers choose their ‘Word of the Year’. It’s usually a new word or phrase (‘Selfie’ – WOTY 2013) that has had a big cultural impact, or an existing word that has come to the fore in a significant way.

As it’s based on changing trends in language, their choices can be seen as something of a barometer of public interest, reflecting what’s being said online and, most likely as a result, everywhere else.

Last year, in a break from tradition, the OED didn’t choose a ‘Word of the Year’, instead opting for a nice round 47 ‘Words of An Unprecedented Year’. You won’t be surprised to hear that the vast majority of the choices are words either directly or indirectly linked to covid – an A to Z of pandemic terms, from anti-masker to zoombombing – with the remainder largely related to what many would consider the two other defining topics of the year, the Black Lives Matter protests and the US elections.

It’s also interesting (to us at least!) to see what didn’t make the list. Of the 47 words, only two related to the environment. This is in stark contrast to 2019, when ‘climate emergency’ was chosen from a shortlist of 10 words which all related to climate or the environment. This, according to OED, reflects a massive drop in media coverage of climate change due to the pandemic.

Herein lies a challenge: as the pandemic rages on and (understandably!) dominates popular discourse, how do we maintain awareness of the other crucial global issues we’re facing, and ensure that we’re in the best position to tackle them once the pandemic is finally over?

As we look forward to the year ahead, let’s make sure that we continue to amplify each other’s voices on all of the issues that matter – and hopefully 2021 is less of an ‘omnishambles’ (WOTY 2012) and more 😂  (WOTY 2015) for us all.

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Paul McMillan

Head of Operations