It’s been a seismic year and language has evolved at breakneck speed to help us keep up to date with it all. The emergence of particular words and phrases seems to have run at a much higher level than has recently been the case.
As the pandemic has proceeded, so we have found all manner of unaccustomed terms coming into our everyday usage so that we barely remember a time when social distancing and furlough were not things we said every day.
So as word of the year season dawns, it is of course no surprise that the words of the pandemic are dominating proceedings.
Collins Dictionary is first out of the blocks as usual, going with Lockdown as its choice. It points out that as well as increased usage, Lockdown has changed from its prison roots, so while it retains many of the restrictions associated with its origins, it now carries elements of public health policy, the good with the bad.
What I think is interesting about lockdown is the way that people have already been seeking not to use it. Clearly the negative associations which Collins have cited are playing too much in politicians’ minds, so they will do what they can to convince us that we are not in a lockdown when in fact we are. So instead parts of the UK are now being treated to a ‘firebreak’ or a ‘circuit breaker’, even the English restrictions are named as national restrictions rather than anything else, with the word lockdown not even appearing on official guidance.
We will see a number of other words of the year over the next few weeks – all will no doubt relate to Covid-19 in some form or other. What will be interesting to note will be whether some words have already run their course, and officials will be trying to replace them with something else in a way to make the message appear to be something different from what it truly is.