Aussie pandemic-related word crowned 2020’s Word of the Year

Nov 17, 2020
Each year a new word or term is chosen as Word of the Year. Source: Getty.

Each year the Australian National Dictionary Centre chooses a word or expression that has gained popularity across the country over the past 12 months. But in a year that’s been clearly dominated by Covid-19, it’s no surprise that 2020’s Word of the Year, and the entire shortlist for that matter, would inevitably be related to the pandemic in some shape or form.

However, amid these coronavirus-related terms one particularly Australian term rose to the top to take the title of Word of the Year, and that word was: Iso: self-isolation; the act of remaining apart from others as a way to limit the spread of an infectious disease, especially as a public health measure.

And while there’s no doubt that the term has gained traction in 2020, this particular word stood out among the hundreds of other pandemic-related terms for its characteristically Aussie abbreviation according to senior researcher Mark Gwynn.

“Our fondness for abbreviating words in Australia, and a natural human inclination to make the unknown and scary familiar, quickly saw the descriptive term ‘self-isolation’ shortened to iso in March this year,” he said. “Not only is iso distinctively Australian in usage, it has also been linguistically productive by combining with other words to form compounds such as iso bakingiso bariso cut, and iso fashion.”

Gwynn went on to say that finding humour in language was how many people decided to cope with the stress of the pandemic as well as the abrupt change in lifestyle. “Why not talk about a bad self-inflicted haircut as an iso cut, or the extra weight gained due to lack of exercise as iso kilos,” he said.

The shortlist was heavy with pandemic-related terms with all bar one being linked to the virus or its effects. The odd one out in the shortlist didn’t relate to coronavirus but instead to the devastating bushfires from last summer. The full 2020 shortlist included:

  • Black Summer: the summer of 2019/2020, during which catastrophic bushfires occurred in south-eastern Australia.
  • bubble: a district, region, or a group of people viewed as a closed system, isolating from other districts, regions, or groups as a public health measure to limit the spread of Covid-19. ‘Bubble’ was also found in compounds such as ‘travel bubble’, ‘germ bubble’ and ‘sporting bubble’.
  • covid-normal: a state of adapting to an acceptable level of Covid-19 in the community.
  • driveway: used in compounds referring to individual Anzac Day vigils in 2020, such as ‘driveway Anzac service’, ‘driveway dawn service’.

In 2018, the Australian National Dictionary Centre went down a different path for Word of the Year with the term “Canberra bubble” coming in the top spot. It referred to the idea that federal politicians, bureaucracy, and political journalists are obsessed with the dealings in Canberra and shot to popularity after Prime Minister Scott Morrison used it to describe the political scene in the state.

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