Each year neologisms, the official word for newly coined words, slip effortlessly into our language. Invariably, to stand the test of time, they need brevity, wit and invention rather than simply be what linguists call a profanity or a vulgarism.
As a philologist, a lover of words, I list my favourites that have originated across 2020 and from all over the English-speaking globe and come into general use typically from newspapers and social networks.
It can take a while for these words to go from their coinage to the process of gaining acceptance from the powers that be in terms of being adopted fully into standard English and their dictionaries.
I have selected words that entertain or at least raise eyebrows rather than the words with which we have all by now become over familiar (furlough, take a knee, PPE., self-isolate and wet market). I need hardly remind you that last year was all about Brexit while this year has been all about Covid with a brand new set of experiences.
The pandemic has inevitably stolen all the headlines this year and with it has come a plethora of newly related words. Here are some of them:
Quaranteam – a group of people who go into quarantine together.
Covidiot – a person who disobeys guidelines designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Social bubble – a small group of family and friends who are permitted to see each other within the Covid-19 measures.
Twindemic – a widespread outbreak of both flu and Covid-19 at the same time.
Maskne – acne caused or made worse by wearing a mask.
Space marshal – someone whose job is to make sure people are obeying the rules of physical distancing in places such as shops, libraries etc.
Lockstalgia – a feeling of nostalgia for the lockdown period of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Several relate to how the coronavirus has caused us all to be stuck at home:
Fem den – a room in a house, or a small building near a house, where a woman can go to get away from the other people in the house and do the things she wants to do.
Pocket park – a small area of parkland built on an empty piece of land.
Moon garden – a garden that has been designed to be enjoyed at night.
Spite house – a house that has been built or altered in order to annoy its owner’s neighbours, such as one being painted in a very bright colour.
Other words and phrases focus on how we have found ways to occupy ourselves purposefully:
Spendemic – a sudden tendency for people to spend money usually on unnecessary things.
Social gifting – doing a kind act for other people or to benefit the community instead of buying someone a gift.
Walkumentary – a film or television programme or other event where someone walks around a particular place learning facts and information about the place or someone connected to it.
Timeboxing – a technique to manage your time more efficiently that involves planning what you are going to do in every minute of the next week.
Physical literacy – the ability to carry out basic physical activities, such as running, jumping, throwing and catching.
Chessboxing – a sport that combines chess and boxing.
A number of words relate to the effect the pandemic has had on travel:
Workation – a holiday where you stay in a hotel or other accommodation and work from there.
Air bridge – a flight route between two countries where the Covid-19 virus is well controlled, enabling people to travel without having to go into quarantine afterwards.
Philantourism – going on holiday to places where the tourist industry needs support.
Others are linked to the way we look:
Zoomwear – a style of dressing that involves wearing clothes suitable for the office above the waist and casual clothing below the waist.
Crisis beard – a beard grown by a man who is undergoing a difficult or stressful situation.
Twinning – wearing the same clothes at the same time as one or more other members of your family.
Technology has come to our rescue:
Digital campfire – a small group of people who communicate online, usually on a social media site.
Teletherapy – the treatment of mental illness by discussing someone’s problems with them using videoconferencing rather than in person.
Zumping – the act of ending a relationship by telling the other person during a video call.
Phygital – using a combination of physical and digital elements to sell and market a product.
Though we must be on our guard against malpractice:
Zoombombing – the act of joining a meeting on the Zoom videoconferencing platform without having been invited, with the aim of disrupting it, often by posting inappropriate content.
Bracelet of silence – a device worn around the wrist that prevents smart devices from listening to the conversations of the person wearing it.
Smishing – an attempt to trick someone into giving personal information by text message that would allow someone else to take money from them, for example by taking money out of their bank account.
Fearware – a type of cyber attack that exploits an existing sense of fear among people and encourages them to click on a link that will harm their computer.
Juice jacking – an illegal attempt to harm someone’s computer, tablet or smartphone, or the information on it, by using a charging port.
Children found new ways to learn:
Flexi-schooling – the teaching of children partly at home, usually by their parents, and partly at school.
Hyflex – a way of learning in which lessons are given face to face in classrooms and also made available on the internet.
Blended – learning a style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media as well as traditional face-to-face teaching.
The colour blue, it seems, has come in for special attention this year:
Blue space – any body of water or the area around it.
Blue mind – a calm state of mind caused by being close to water.
Blue health – the benefits to your physical and mental health that come from spending time in or near water.
Environmental issues still persist:
Climate criminal – a person or organisation whose actions make the climate emergency worse.
Ghost gear – fishing equipment, such as nets and lines, that is abandoned in the ocean and takes several hundred years to decompose, thus causing harm to sea life and the environment.
Sandscaping – the activity of adding a large amount of sand to an existing beach to try to prevent or reduce the erosion of the coastline.
Urban creep – the gradual loss of green space in a city that happens when gardens are paved over, house extensions are built etc.
And there are a number of new words relating to food and drink too:
Social supermarket – a place where food is sold at very low prices to people who do not have enough money to buy it in other shops.
Seacuterie – an assortment of cold fish and shellfish, cooked or prepared in different ways.
Bluicing – the process of extracting the juice out of fruit or vegetables then mixing it with other ingredients in a blender to make a smoothie.
Walktail – a cocktail that you drink while you walk.
Tablescaping – the activity of setting a dining table in a very artistic, decorative way, usually for a special occasion.
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