Thank you very much to everyone who submitted an entry to Competition 5: What even are words any more? – we received lots of really interesting and insightful pieces of writing, some of which you can see below, as selected by our team of markers!
1st place (Year 10): Jacob W.
Jacob’s winning entry
The American Dialect Society’s approach is to pick a word or phrase which is related to current affairs. The Collins Dictionary also choses a word of the year, but relies on an algorithm which finds the most used word of the year from their corpus without subjective interpretation. In contrast, the ADS choose their word after nominations and discussion amongst their members.
In 2020 the American Dialect Society’s (ADS) word of the year was “Covid” and they wrote “A year ago, the word Covid didn’t even exist, and now it has come to define our lives.” What is interesting to note about the approach of the ADS when choosing their word of year, is that it isn’t based on an objective meaning but on the relevance of a word in the current world. Wikipedia defines a word as “the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with objective meaning”. It can be seen, however, that the ADS take particular interest in the happenings of the country in which they are based, America. For example, in 2017 the ADS word of the year was “fake news”. ADS in this choice reflected the discourse in American politics, particularly during the election campaigns that year during which fake news was mentioned frequently. This is an example of the ADS using its word of the year to symbolise a matter in the public narrative that they see as relevant and worth recognising.
The ADS aims to stay current and up-to-date with their choices. One of the nominations for the slang word of the 2020 was “pogger” meaning, in their words, “[a] term used to denote excitement, derived from a Twitch emote showing someone with a surprised expression”. Although this word has been in use since the 1990s, it is only recently that it has gained fame. This shows that the ADS does not always choose a new word, and will nominate a word that has changed in meaning or gained popularity. I conclude that from looking at the ADS’s previous choices, their choices are those words that are relevant to what is happening in the world at that time.
The approach taken by the ADS is modelled in a recent project undertaken by the Leibniz Institute for the German Language documenting the huge number of new words coined in the last year as lives and language radically changed during the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to the approach the ADS takes in its choice of word of the year, Dr Christine Möhrs, highlights the importance of the words we use in everyday life, “Words not only convey content, but can also convey emotions and feelings. And speakers should be aware of that.” With this in mind, I conclude that the ADS’ approach to choosing a word of the year is to focus more on the relevance of the word in today society than the word itself.
1st place (Year 11): Jessica D.
Jessica’s winning entry
Seemingly, the definition of a ‘word’ in this case is dictated through the function of that ‘word’ in everyday speech rather than its use in a formal grammatical setting. This is demonstrated in the case of the 2013 American dialect society word of the year ‘because’, whilst this word is used in a traditional sense as a conjunction that is not why the word was chosen for the word of the year as the most common use of that word which resulted in its nomination was its use as a noun or adjective such as in the case of ‘because reasons’. This is significant as it suggests that the definition of a ‘word’ rather than its formal definition of ‘a single unit of language that has meaning and can be spoken or written’ as stated by the dictionary a ‘word’ in modern society becomes such through popular use and the unanimous consent of society. The prominence of the methodology indicates that when it comes to matters of language the standards are set not by the formal language rather the colloquialisms that are adapted into common usage, this raises the question of whether or not this was the case prior and is this the case in other countries which I decided to investigate further.
During 2020, the word of the year for four languages were ‘Lockdown’ (English), ‘Corona Pandemie’ (German), ‘san Mitsu’ (Japanese) and ‘confinement’ (French). What is worth noting about these cases is that whilst all of these words are influenced by current events English and French were focused on the public’s response, Japanese was focused on the government’s response and German was focused on the cause. This highlights the cultural aspects which are taken into consideration when choosing the word of the year and emphasises my point about a word of the year being chosen through what comes into popular use in the common everyday language. This calls into light how language is a clear indicator of a culture and how that culture changes throughout time for example through the introduction of loan words and slang terms which then become part of standard language as time progresses. This is also evidenced when you look at how the usage of words changes over time for example the use of the word ‘mouse’ previously the most used definition of this word was the small rodent, however, now the more common usage of this word is the computer equipment showing increasing digitalisation.
This highlights how the progression and evolution of language represents society as a whole and the differences and changes that are seen in different languages and in how a singular language changes over time, has and will greatly influence the methodology used in order to choose the word of the year. As our culture and the way certain words and the way ‘words’ are defined will change over time to reflect society and the role language plays in our daily life, the methodology used will also change.
2nd place (Year 10)