“Pandemials” – a word you need to remember

Year two of the pandemic. And that has left its mark on language. New words have emerged. They describe our current everyday reality. Some terms are likely to disappear again, but others will shape our vocabulary for a long time to come.

How the pandemic shaped the language

Language was a subject of great discussion in 2021, with dictionaries all over the world seeing an increase in entries. Social discussions such as gender diversity, equality and digitalisation all got their mention, new entries including gender pay gap and me-too. But nothing would have a greater effect on language than the pandemic. Around every fifth term had some link with corona – such as long covid, lateral flow test, social distance and staycation.

It is a well-known fact that major events, movements and innovations all influence language, otherwise why did words such as carbon footprint, tweet, hashtag, fake news, 9/11 and bailouts become permanent features of language? That is also true of crises. A need arises to encapsulate the new reality in words. But language not only reflects what is happening at the moment; it also helps shape how we perceive that reality. So being positive, using a touch of humour or just being creative automatically makes a crisis seem less dramatic – appealing terms, such as coronials to denote babies born during the coronavirus pandemic, make the whole situation easier for us to accept.

Covid determined the words of the year 2021 in most countries but with a word like Pandemial trending in 2022, it is likely to shape our language long term.

Because processes of change and drastic social issues influence our perception far into the future, it is particularly interesting to see that the annual survey of the “Future Institute” in Germany has come up with the word Pandemials as the trend word for 2022. The institute describes the term as a word for the follow-on generation to the millennials and Gen Z. Generally speaking, a Pandemial is old enough to be conscious of the full impact of Covid-19 on their lives, but not old enough to remember life before 9/11. They have been particularly affected by the measures taken during the pandemic, learning how to deal with recurrent virus waves and lockdowns. Using disinfectant and regularly washing their hands are as normal for them as cleaning their teeth. Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionary stayed with the pandemic for their choice, naming vaccine and vax respectively as their words of the year. Oxford explained its choice of the shorter word as follows: “the numerous derivatives... in a wide range of informal contexts, from vax sites and vax cards to getting vaxxed and being fully vaxxed, no word better captures the atmosphere of the past year.” The Cambridge Dictionary was thinking along the same lines when it chose the word perseverance, summing up the “undaunted will of people across the world never to give up, despite the many challenges of 2021.” Social trends were also given the nod, with Dictionary.com choosing allyship as its word of the year. Allyship is defined as “the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.”

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