It’s that time of year again when dictionaries announce their Word of the Year. Not surprisingly, most of them have to do with the coronavirus pandemic, although there’s no consensus.
I noted iso as an up-and-comer back in July, and now the Australian National Dictionary Centre has named iso its 2020 WOTY.
It was up against stiff competition: coronavirus itself, with all its offspring – coronaverse, coronapocalypse and coronials – the generation coming of age during the pandemic. Covid too, with its variations such as covidiot and covidivorce. Then there were the many words that played on quarantine, such as quaranteams, quara-horror – a new movie genre exploiting the vulnerability of people in forced isolation – and quarantini: the evening drinkie after a hard day’s work on Zoom. Zoom itself sparked its own little lexicon: zoombombing – hijacking someone else’s online meeting, and zoom fatigue, which comes on when you’re so sick of the sight of that damned screen that you can’t even face a covideo party.
The ANDC say they chose iso because it’s so linguistically productive: you can tack it on to any number of other things to make new words: iso-baking, iso-fashion, iso-workout, iso-gardening and iso-desking, just to name a few. It may have started out as just a prefix, but has now gone solo and become a word in its own right: I’m in iso, he’s in iso, how have you been managing in iso?
The ANDC say iso is distinctively Australian. Likewise driveway, also on their list, as in the driveway dawn services we were urged to observe this Anzac Day. (Iso-Anzac is a distinctively Australian concept if ever I heard one!) The ANDC considered bubble too, as in travel bubble. But the problem here is that on their own there’s nothing new about bubble or driveway, or social or distancing. As phrases they represent a totally new thing.
You could rebadge the whole thing as Word or Phrase of the Year, but that sounds clumsy and pedantic, and why stop at that? Why not have Word or Phrase or Acronym of the Year? After all, both PPE and WFH have become solidly ensconced in the language and I bet I don’t even have to tell you what the letters stand for. But then you’d have WOPOAOTY instead of just WOTY or WOPOTY, and you can’t let these acronyms get out of hand.
The Australian dictionaries are luckier in having distinctive localisms to choose from. Like iso and driveway, quazza – newly coined since I wrote my first column back in July – was on most shortlists. A more distinctively Australian form of quarantine you can’t imagine. I suspect rona is only heard in Australia too. Rona spread quickly among the young as shorthand for the virus. Have you had the rona?
The Macquarie Dictionary liked rona so much that they crowned it (pun intended) one of TWO Words of the Year. Usually they only have one, but this year they decided there had to be one WOTY to mark Covid’s domination of global language, and another WOTY to cover everything else that’s happened. For that they’ve chosen doomscrolling, the practice of continuing to read news online or on social media even when you know it’s all miserable.
I’ve only just heard of doomscrolling, but I like it. I also liked lockumentary, a doco made about life under lockdown, and Blursday, any day of the week under lockdown because they all felt the same!
Lockdown, which has gained currency throughout the Anglophone world, was the choice of Collins Australian Dictionary. They also considered key worker and boomer remover, the slyly unkind nickname bestowed by coronials on the disease carrying off their elders.
The great Oxford got so bamboozled by the multitude of new pandemic-related words that they basically wimped out of making a choice and just made a list including most or all of the above, and throwing in some non-pandemic related terms such as unmute – surely that’s been around a while? – and mail-in, as in the postal voting system newly adopted in the USA and reviled by Donald Trump. Lame and undeserving, in my view.
Arriving too late in the piece to gain much traction WOTY-wise was vertical drinking – forbidden in public licensed venues under the new normal, where you have to be seated. In my neck of the woods we eagerly await a return to being allowed to stand at the bar – the old normal. Hey – I’ve just coined that! Maybe it’ll be next year’s WOTY. Or WOPOTY.
This piece first appeared in The New Norfolk News on 11.12.20. I found the funnies on a website which said I could have them for free. Fingers crossed.