Collins Dictionary Word of the Year 2020: the coronavirus terms that made the top 10 - and top words in 2019, 2018 and before

The top word for 2020 really reflects the unprecedented year we’ve had

No one could have predicted the events of 2020, and that we would still be living under coronavirus restrictions in the lead-up to Christmas.

It truly has been an unprecedented time, so it’s no surprise that the Collins Dictionary Word Of The Year shortlist reflects that, with coronavirus-related language dominating.

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The winner itself is a word that tends to reflect the current state of the world, and according to Collins, “2020 has been dominated by the global pandemic”.

It's hardly surprising that 2020's Word Of The Year is coronavirus-related (Shutterstock)
It's hardly surprising that 2020's Word Of The Year is coronavirus-related (Shutterstock)

So, what is the most popular word of 2020 - and how many times has it been used this year?

What’s this year’s word of the year?

“Lockdown” has been crowned Collins Dictionary Word Of The Year 2020, due to its spike in use after the global emergence of coronavirus.

The word is defined as “the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction, and access to public spaces".

After governments around the world responded to the spread of the virus by locking down their countries, lexicographers registered more than 250,000 usages of the word this year, as opposed to just 4,000 in 2019.

Collins Dictionary said the word “encapsulates the shared experience of billions of people who have had to restrict their daily lives in order to contain the virus”.

It added: “Lockdown has affected the way we work, study, shop and socialise”.

Because many countries around the world are currently facing a second lockdown, Collins said it is not a word “to celebrate” but rather one that “sums up the year for most of the world”.

What are the top 10 words of the year?

Other coronavirus-related words such as “social distancing”, “self-isolate” and “furlough” made the final list, as well as the abbreviation BLM for Black Lives Matter.

BLM registered a 581% increase in usage after the protests, which followed the death of black man George Floyd in the United States.

Another non-pandemic related entry was “Megxit”, the term modelled on the word Brexit to describe how Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, withdrew from their royal duties.

Also featured is “TikToker”, which reflects the immense growth of the social media platform loved by Gen Zers.

Here is the full list of words with definitions:

coronavirus (noun): any one of a group of RNA-containing viruses that can cause infectious illnesses of the respiratory tract, including COVID-19. So called because of their crown-like appearance in electron micrographs.

BLM (abbreviation) for Black Lives Matter: a movement that campaigns against racially motivated violence and oppression.

furlough (noun): a temporary laying-off of employees, usually because there is insufficient work to occupy them; (verb) to lay off (staff) temporarily. From Dutch verlof, from ver (for) and lof (leave); related to Swedish förlof.

key worker or keyworker (noun, Brit): an employee in any of a number of professions considered to be essential to the functioning of society, for example teachers, police officers, health workers, shop workers, etc.

lockdown (noun): the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction, and access to public spaces.

Megxit (noun, informal): the withdrawal of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from royal duties, announced in January 2020. From Meg(han), Duchess of Sussex and (e)xit; influenced by Brexit.

mukbang (noun, Korean): a video or webcast in which the host eats a large quantity of food for the entertainment of viewers. From meogneun (eating) and bangsong (broadcast).

self-isolate (verb): to quarantine oneself if one has or suspects one has a contagious disease.

social distancing (noun): the practice of maintaining a certain distance between oneself and other people in order to prevent infection with a disease. Also called: physical distancing > social distance or socially distance (verb).

TikToker (noun): a person who regularly shares or appears in videos on TikTok.

What were the previous words of the year?

Words of the year often reflect the social and political issues sweeping the world.

In 2019, it was “climate strike”, marking the global environmental movement and school strikes led by 17-year-old activist Greta Thunberg.

“Single-use” was another environment-related word of the year in 2018, after news stories and David Attenborough documentaries raised awareness of the issue of one-time use plastic.

In 2017, usage of “fake news” rose by 365% thanks to Donald Trump’s repeated use of the word as he railed against the mainstream media on Twitter.

2016’s word of the year, was, unsurprisingly, “Brexit”, while 2015’s was “binge-watch” after on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime changed the way we watch TV.