November 9, 2018

And the word of the year is…. single-use


Annually in the UK, the Collins English Dictionary, published by HarperCollins, pick their ‘word of the year’.

Photo via Romain Vignes/Unsplash

They have been producing dictionaries since 1819 and currently maintain a database of over 4.5 billion words, constantly monitoring books, newspapers, websites, magazines, websites, radio and television for up and coming new terms and colloquialisms hitting the mainstream.

Choosing their word of the year since 2013, the Collins team first select a shortlist of words they believe have had particular prominence or relevance over the last twelve months, from which they select their winner. Their first winner five years ago was ‘geek‘:

“If you call someone, usually a man or boy, a geek, you are saying in an unkind way that they are stupid, awkward, or weak.

“You can refer to someone who is skilled with computers, and who seems more interested in them than in people, as a geek.”

Recently, the words selected have had particular political prevalence, with ‘fake news‘ coming top in 2017 and ‘Brexit‘ winning out in 2016. This year, the winning word is ‘single-use‘, referring to products, often plastic, that have been made to be used only once before being disposed of. A spokesperson for the dictionary explained, as reported by Alison Flood at The Guardian:

“Images of plastic adrift in the most distant oceans, such as straws, bottles and bags, have led to a global campaign to reduce their use.

“The word [single-use] has seen a four-fold increase since 2013.”

The plight has certainly been highlighted by high profile television programmes such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II which helped catapult plastic pollution issues into public consciousness.

Several other shortlisted words this year neatly reflect the volatile times we are living in. ‘MeToo‘ made it, without the hashtag, illustrating how the movement exposing predatory sexual behaviour has become so much more than a social-media pheonomenon. And with Trump and Brexit in mind, let’s reflect upon ‘gaslight‘: a person attempting to manipulate another by continually presenting them with false information until they doubt their sanity. ‘Backstop‘: a system that will come into effect if no other arrangement is made. And ‘gammon‘: not a delicious ham, but a person, typically male, middle-aged, and white, with reactionary views, especially one who supports the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union. Then we have ‘whitewash‘: to cast a white actor in the role of (a character from a minority ethnic group) or to produce (a film or play) using white actors to play characters from a minority ethnic group.

Today’s world is a grim place indeed.

On the lighter side, ‘floss‘ made it onto the list: that extremely irritating dance that kids seems to inherently love, as well as ‘plogging‘: a recreational activity, originating in Sweden, that combines jogging with picking up litter. Those swedes are crazy. ‘VAR‘, an abbreviation for video assistant referee made it, in part thanks to the 2018 FIFA World Cup and amazingly, ‘vegan‘ appears, a term I thought well and truly established by now.

Helen Newstead, head of language content at Collins, said in The Guardian:

“This has been a year where awareness and often anger over a variety of issues has led to the rise of new words and the revitalisation and adaptation of old ones. It’s clear from this year’s Words of the Year list that changes to our language are dictated as much by public concern as they are by sport, politics, and playground fads.”

“The words in this year’s list perhaps highlight a world at extremes – at one end, serious social and political concerns, and at the other, more light-hearted activities. All, however, contribute to the ever-evolving English language and will take their place on, and will be considered for future print editions.”

Perhaps we can all forget we are surrounded by manipulative, misogynist, racist idiots by swinging our arms and hips about a bit, delittering and watching football refereed by a non-human. LOL (dictionary worthy since 2011).





Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.