Beth compiles a list of words which have been added to the dictionary over the past (almost) decade and discusses what this reflects about our society…
I am constantly amazed by words- in awe of them, surprised, truly captivated by their power. These jiggly little symbols that allow us to express! These arbitrary squiggles through which we can communicate! The whole system is baffling if you think about it. A simple observation, granted. But pretty incredible nonetheless. Some words are simply beautiful. My favourites are the ones that dance around your tongue and leap off in a crescendo. Words like discombobulate or trollop. There are words like anguish and theft, which seem to carry the weight of entire histories in their vocalisation. Words like greed, which oftentimes bitterly invoke the presence of a singular man. There are words I daren’t make visible on this screen; words I wish would be hidden more than they are. Words are used, repeated, queered. They are everywhere, constantly interacting with us and influencing our emotions. I often think about language and a conclusion I come to time and time again is that, the words we use create our worlds. I could be perfectly fine, but if I repeat aloud to myself all day that I am sad, then the likelihood is that by the end of the day I will be sad. It’s something about writing a word down or saying it aloud which gives it force. A force which is unfathomable when we accept that words themselves are intangible.
I sat down on the first day of January to think about the decade gone by. ‘What do I have to say about it?’ I thought to myself. Quite a monster task really; trying to find something to say, or think, about an entire decade. But on that semi-sentimental, mostly anxious and exhausted New Years morning, I felt I ought to. I began by thinking, ‘well what’s changed? What’s become relevant? What’s faded away?’ The obvious plots came to mind, but nothing original worth lingering on. So, I turned back to my faithful words. Surely the meaning of the decade could be found in what people had been saying during it; what words had been used. This would be a good place to start, anyway. I did a quick search to see what words had been added to the dictionary over the year. (The thought of searching the new words of the decade intimidated me slightly.) Needless to say there were several. Words from pop culture, adaptations of old words, words I heard everywhere, words I’d never heard of. A few clicks led me to a page detailing ‘Collins Word of the Year 2019’, on which I discovered that since 2013, Collins English Dictionary have released a selection of prominent words throughout the past year, along with a chosen winner. What a neat little synopsis of the years gone by. I share with you my highlights from this list, offering the winning word from each year followed by my chosen runner up. Though the list will not cover the entire decade, I think its contents sum it up pretty nicely. I ask, if the words we use create our worlds and these are the top words we have used in (pretty much) the past decade, what kind of world are we creating?
Climate strike- A protest demanding action on climate change (1)
Our Environmental Editor, Meg says: “2019 was the year when the world woke up to the climate crisis, partly inspired by a Swedish teenager skipping school on Fridays to protest outside her government building over inaction on climate change. Millions of young people have since taken to the streets, fighting for a future in which climate catastrophe is not part of the equation.”
Nonbinary- Relating to a gender or sexual identity that does not belong to the binary categories of male or female, heterosexual or homosexual
The word non binary was first added to the dictionary in 2019. The shock and ultimate sadness in this late addition hinges on the fact that this identity category is painted as something that is ‘new’. I turn to the always inspiring words of activist and performance artist Travis Alabanza who reminds us, “the word ‘non-binary’ may have only come into public use more commonly within the last five years but… gender non-conformity has existed since humans have been here”(2) . We mustn’t allow ourselves to forget the people and the history behind the word.
Single-use– Made to be used only once (3)
We all know that getting rid of single use plastics is just the first step and has become something of a necessary fad. Yet this simple act of refusal has caught on with momentous force. Single use plastic bags have decreased 90% in major supermarkets in the UK since 2015, every coffee shop you go in to will offer a discount for bringing a reusable cup and I haven’t seen a plastic straw for I don’t know how long (4). The major implication of this shift for me is the conversations it has started, making people aware of the impact of their actions and inciting a growing passion in ethical consumption.
Plogging– A recreational activity, originating in Sweden, that combines jogging with picking up litter.
Combining jogging with ‘plocka’, the Swedish word for ‘pick up’, this workout allows you to support the local community, show respect to the earth and kickstart your January health craze. If I’m completely honest, I chose to add it to the list as a sort of advertisement for an Edinburgh-based plogging group. Please contact me if interested, I will be on the meadows…
Cuffing season- The period of autumn and winter, when single people are considered likely to seek settled relationships rather than engage in casual affairs. (5)
Though I do find it hilarious that there is a term for this all too familiar feeling, I must reveal that this winner is actually a lie. But an apt lie indeed, since the true winner is (drumroll please…) FAKE NEWS- false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.
Echo chamber– An environment, especially on a social media site, in which any statement of opinion is likely to be greeted with approval because it will only be read or heard by people who hold similar views
One of the scarier members of the list… The idea of the echo chamber gives me shivers because it allows us to place ourselves in narrow boxes where we can sit behind our screens, unchallenged. It reveals the irony of the internet as a place of connection and one which incites unprecedented separation. One need only look to the ways in which social media platforms have been abused in political battles over the past few years. I say let’s try to step outside more- talk, debate, allow ourselves to be wrong!
Brexit: The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union in March 2019 (6)
Or the 12th April 2019, the 31st October 2019 (do or die?), or 31st January 2020…
Snowflake generation: The generation of people who became adults in the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations
I’m in quite a conundrum with this one, having to admit that when I found out what it meant I took great offence. But I suppose that’s the point? Interestingly, the term is being used as part of a recent recruitment campaign for the army, with a poster reading “Snow flakes, your army needs you and your compassion”. Manipulative and insulting or extremely clever? Either way applications have almost doubled since its release (7).
Binge watch: If you binge-watch a television series, you watch several episodes one after another in a short time (8)
I always shunned the binge watch phenomenon. Breaking Bad lost its appeal for me when I watched a fly buzzing around a lab for an hour and as for Game of Thrones, I have always felt too intimidated to actually begin. Yet, two seasons of Fleabag later, I have been proven wrong once and for all. There really is nothing quite like giving into the temptation of just one more episode…
Manspreading: The practice by a male passenger on public transport of sitting with his legs wide apart, so denying space to passengers beside him
Now, this is a fad I completely missed. Luckily I have a male flatmate who I’ve been able to turn to for some information. Though he admits he is more of a leg crosser than spreader, I must say he’s done a great job of mansplaining the whole thing to me.
Photobomb: If you photobomb someone, you spoil a photograph of them by stepping in front of them as the photograph is taken, often doing something silly such as making a funny face (9)
A craze which in my experience has completely surpassed my generation and headed straight for my mums?
Tinder: The dating app Tinder matches users in their local area, who swipe right to like a profile and left to reject it. The app alerts the user if there is a match and opens a chat box.
Whether its for lighting our ancestors fire or our twenty-first century loins, tinder has been a constant. Personally, I gave up on the whole thing when a prospective mate spent our entire date telling me about the different haircuts he’d had over the last 5 years.
Geek: A person who is knowledgable and enthusiastic about a specific subject (10)
My favourite thing about this word is its transformation- the way it has gone from a social positive to negative and back again, countless times. I can’t help but think back to Sketch from Saved by the Bell- totally geeky and its safe to say, not painted as the most desirable of men. But then jump forward a few years and we’ve entered into the stage of geek chic (a term which admittedly makes me cringe, but couldn’t be omitted). I ask out of genuine interest, if not a slight cry for solidarity, did anyone else steal 3D glasses from the cinema when they were 15 and poke the lenses out to embody this craze?
Twerking: A provocative dance performed by moving the hips rapidly back and forth whilst standing with the feet apart and raising and lowering the body in a squatting motion
I’m just going to leave you with this definition, urging all twerkers and non-twerkers to accurately follow it and see what movement comes out. I can assure mine was not pretty…
Beth Simpson, Society and Community Editor