The Oxford English Dictionary reveals it’s been hard pushed to decide on just one ‘word of the year’ given the veritable smorgasbord of new lexicon COVID-19 has served up. But, as TPW warns, brands need to rein in the overused words 2020 has unleashed – if they want to be heard….
Since early this year, when the pandemic Armageddon crashed into our lives – and all the hideous health and economic consequences than ensued – we’ve been in a deluge of hyperbole, hype and hitherto unheard-of words. From new-fangled expressions like ‘circuit breaker’ and ‘support bubbles’ to language we may have heard before, but are unlikely to have said out loud (at least in public), like ‘furlough’ and ‘distributed workforce’ – 2020 has been awash with new vocabulary. So much so that Oxford Dictionaries has been unable to choose a winner in its annual ‘word of the year’ race.
Instead, it’s opted for ‘words of an unprecedented year’. The President of Oxford Dictionaries says: “It’s both unprecedented and a little ironic – in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other.”
Here’s a snapshot of some of its 2020 ‘words’: bushfires, Covid-19, WFH, lockdown, pods, keyworkers, Black Lives Matter and moonshot. What on earth is moonshot? I had to look that one up. And then immediately realised it’s a red herring: naught to do with Covid; all to do with the act of launching a space craft towards the moon! Much more exciting.
But back to the OED’s new findings. It’s allegedly tracked more than 11 billion words in web-based news, blogs and other texts to reveal what it’s describing as “seismic shifts in language data and precipitous frequency rises in new coinage”. Sounds like what I call ‘alien speak’. In native tongue I believe it means there are words that are being said a lot more by us humans since the pandemic began.
As a writer for businesses (a brand journalist if we’re using buzzwords), this topic really strikes a chord with me, as the language of B2B storytelling this year has indeed changed too. But I would, controversially, like to say bon voyage to many words that have become so ubiquitous that they’re either irksome or churnalistic – or both. Many words that once might have sounded clever, now smack of jargon and put content in danger of being boring, bland – and ignored.
Let’s start with ‘unprecedented’ (sorry OED). Not actually in its ‘words of the year’ just in the title. This needs a long hiatus from all written copy. It’s been overused to the point it’s lost any poignancy it once might have had; we need to collectively come up with a few alternatives. Then there’s ‘threat radar’. Why have we suddenly started talking like Heathrow control tower operators? A personal bug-bear is also the oxymoron ‘new normal’. I implore you: banish it from your copy immediately. ‘Exponential’ also gets my goat. Why? Well, it’s so grandiose, so important-sounding. And yet, it is very rarely backed up by any evidence or substance.
That’s it for now! But TPW banned buzzwords may start featuring in your feed sometime soon. I’m not sure I’ll be able to wait a whole year though. Watch this space….