Word of the year: Our words of the year and past decade

by Anna Fozzard

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As the decade draws to a close, we’re taking a trip down memory lane through the greatness of words.

In the 10 years that brought us the London Olympics, Diamond Jubilee and, dare we say it, the EU Referendum, we’ve seen our political and social worlds change drastically. And with it, some words, phrases and quotes have really struck a chord – including lots of new words.

Naturally, we have our own idea of what the word of the year should be. Here are the ones that have really stood out for our team.

“The Attenborough Effect”

I really like how three words can summarise a huge movement towards sustainability. It’s incredible how one person’s understanding and vision can motivate millions of people. I’ve really felt The Attenborough Effect and haven’t bought a bottle of water since the man himself made an appearance at Glastonbury this year.


The 2012 London Olympics bikini-defending quote

“The female body is a masterpiece. Everyone likes to look at the female body, especially in dynamic, athletic sport” – Natalie Cook, Australian beach volleyball player on wearing bikinis during the game.

I can’t help but think the same quote wouldn’t have gone down too well after the controversial ‘Are you beach body ready?’ advert of 2015 or the #MeToo campaign of 2017. Times really do change, and the words we say hugely reflect that.


“Fake news” and “post-truth”

These words really sum up this decade of change for me. It’s so interesting how ‘fake news’ has morphed from referring to spam or poorly researched pieces to a seemingly legitimate way to dismiss facts that don’t fit into our ideologies.


This is a great example of how new words naturally evolve. Covfefe is used on one of Donald Trump’s “most famous” tweets back in 2017 for its mistyping of the word ‘coverage’. The error itself has since been adopted to mean a social media blunder.

– Alan


What information helps us form our views? For lots of people it’s social media influencers. Not necessarily experts with formal training, but bloggers and celebrities. For me, the rise of the influencers is tied to the whole post-fact world, where many of us have stopped looking for evidence or assessing a range of opinions before forming a view. (Not me, obviously!)



Hashtags came into their own this decade, and the #MeToo campaign really stood out for me. We saw how social media and influencing can ‘do good’ and change perceptions on a global scale. A matter of a symbol and five letters helped encourage strength and unity among women across generations. It’s powerful stuff.


When an “emoji” was the word of the year

In 2015, the OED word of the year was the emoji of the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’. As many people have said, emojis are the first global language. And that’s a huge opportunity. I find it fascinating that the shape of what is ‘correct’ or appropriate is evolving with society, and rightly so.


“Identifying as…”

This phrase is absolutely major in terms of impact and what it means for different generations. I love that we can go into 2020 with a term out there for people to define who they want to be and how they want society to see them.



“Memes” and “vines”

10 years ago, we might not have known what someone meant when they asked, ‘have you seen the ‘one does not simply’ meme?’. But now memes are a shared part of life. They bring people together by summarising what many of us are thinking.



Vines have gone on a similar journey to memes. The platform for sharing these short funny videos may have gone, but the name ‘vine’ still lives on.

– Meg


“Woke” and “snowflake”

If you keep yourself aware of social and racial injustice, you’re woke. And if you are overly sensitive or politically correct, you’re a snowflake. It has been so interesting to see how we adapt to the world around us by adding new words to our lexicon.

– Alice


“Selfie”, “lol”, “bae”, “slay”…

Selfie was the OED’s word of the year in 2013. Lol also got added to the OED in 2011. And bae has gone from being used in R&B lyrics to a runner up for word of the year in 2014. I love how language accommodates social change. We also have drag culture to thank for a lot of the terms we’ve been using over the past 10 years, like slay, fierce and yas queen!

– Becky

As we move into the 2020s, our love of language lives on. We’ll be keeping our ears pricked for new words the next decade brings that will help us all make sense of the changing world around us. If anything stands out, we’ll let you know.

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