It’s a word that up until February of this year would have most likely been associated with being in prison – but turned out to be kind of prophetic, as staying locked up in our homes became the new normal when Covid-19 swept across the globe.
Now, lockdown has been named as the word of 2020 by Collins English dictionary, which defined it as: “The imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction, and access to public spaces.”
Lexicographers registered more than 250,000 usages of lockdown in 2020, compared to 4,000 from the year before.
“Language is a reflection of the world around us and 2020 has been dominated by the global pandemic,” said Helen Newstead, a language content consultant at Collins. “We have chosen lockdown as our word of the year because it encapsulates the shared experience of billions of people who have had to restrict their daily lives in order to contain the virus.”
Adding: “Lockdown has affected the way we work, study, shop, and socialise. With many countries entering a second lockdown, it is not a word of the year to celebrate but it is, perhaps, one that sums up the year for most of the world.”
Lockdown can also take credit for spawning its own microcosm of lexicography, such as turning Zoom into a verb, as in: “Shall we Zoom later?”
Mukbang, Megxit and the runner-up words
Lockdown had some competition to be crowned word of the year. TikToker was a frontrunner, describing someone who is active on the social media app TikTok. As was Megxit, the phrase used to describe Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepping down as senior royals from the British royal family.
BLM, the acronym for Black Lives Matter, was another finalist along with coronavirus, a word that appears at least once in most people’s daily vocabulary.
Another word is Mukbang, which, like the world-dominating boy band BTS, originates from South Korea. It’s the term used to describe videos posted online of people eating huge amounts of food.
“Lockdown, with its heavy, clunking syllables and heavier associations, is the condition we’ve most dreaded in 2020 – a state of national stasis, where almost everything that constitutes normal public life is suspended,” writes David Shariatmadari, the author of Don’t Believe A Word: From Myths to Misunderstandings – How Language Really Works.
“It’s not a shock to remember that lockdown was originally a piece of prison vocabulary: it’s when inmates are confined to their cells because of some disturbance on the wing. 2020 is the year that the meaning of the word shifted irrevocably: in most people’s minds, lockdown is now a public health measure.”