In case there was any doubt about what we’d remember 2020 for, Collins English Dictionary has helpfully reminded us — opting to name “lockdown” its word of the year.
The term, a once-obscure noun that has wormed its way into many of our conversations recently, was recognized by the linguistic authority after its meaning evolved globally due to public health measures against the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our lexicographers chose ‘lockdown’ as Word of the Year because it is a unifying experience for billions of people across the world, who have had, collectively, to play their part in combating the spread of COVID-19,” Collins wrote after announcing the award.
“It’s not a shock to remember that lockdown was originally a piece of prison vocabulary: it’s when inmates are confined to their cells because of some disturbance on the wing,” it added.
“2020 is year that the meaning of the word shifted irrevocably: in most people’s minds, lockdown is now a public health measure — its use having increased exponentially since 2019.”
The dictionary said it registered over a quarter of a million usages of “lockdown” during 2020, up from only 4,000 the previous year.
The term first started appearing in news reports in January, when the Chinese city of Wuhan put strict travel restrictions in place to fight a spreading virus.
Since then, virtually every major country has enacted some form of lockdown — with unprecedented social restrictions limiting human interaction and making 2020 a year unlike any other in modern history.
The pandemic unsurprisingly influenced many of the shortlisted words that Collins considered. “Coronavirus,” “key worker,” “furlough” and “social distancing” were all mentioned as the dictionary unveiled its annual choice.
“BLM,” an abbreviation for the Black Lives Matter movement, also made the shortlist, as did “Megxit” — the term used by parts of the media to refer to Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s withdrawal from the British royal family.
The Collins English Dictionary is currently in its 13th edition, and its publishers highlight words each year that dominated contemporary news events. Last year, “climate strike” was chosen, and in 2018 they opted for “single-use.”
But this year’s choice was an easy one. “It’s no surprise that quite a few of the words on Collins Word of the Year 2020 shortlist have one big thing in common: the pandemic,” the dictionary wrote.
“Something that changed everyone’s lives so profoundly — leaving no country or continent untouched — was bound to have a significant impact on our language.”