August 25, 2020

Reimagining the Covictionary*

*Not a real word at present.

Covid. C-19. Contact Tracing. Frontliner. Physical Distancing. Zoom. These were just some of the entries included in last month's Oxford English Dictionary quarterly update. It seems a bit strange that these words, already firmly embedded in our collective consciousness, have only now been added to the world’s most famous word catalogue. (And there they will remain; once a word is added to the OED, it is never removed. In any case, there is no fear of the C word being forgotten any time soon).

It is no surprise that the pandemic and its associations featured largely in the last quarter’s additions given that they formed a big part of the narrative of the past five months. This serves as a timely reminder that the language we read, write and speak is both reflective of reality and constantly evolving. Furthermore, cementing these words in the OED now almost seems to make the pandemic even more real (if it were not already real enough). It’s all there in black and white now; it wasn’t a dream, the scales aren’t broken and those are definitely your wine bottles.

During my time in UCD, I was taught by the renowned word wizard, Professor Terry Dolan, who seemed to take particular delight in explaining the etymology of some of the more unsavoury words to his students. He also wrote the widely acclaimed Dictionary of Hiberno English which celebrated the colourful nature of the unique branch of English spoken only in this country. (It also went some way towards helping this little culchie navigate her strange new reality of Dubes and Dorts). He had an infectious enthusiasm for words as subjects with a story to tell in their own right and it is his teaching which stands out most in my memory today.

The latest OED update may have been dominated by all things Covid but I am an optimist and remain confident that 2021 is going to be much better. In light of that, here are a few of my predictions for what might make the cut next year:

Chocaless (n) Ultra low calorie, sugar-free, vitamin rich ‘chocolate’ that is indistinguishable from the real thing.

C-Vac (n) Covid -19 vaccine which was rolled out worldwide towards the end of 2020, completely eradicating the virus in just two months.

Open-Up(s) (n) Street parties held in early 2021 to mark the eradication of Covid-19 {antonym: Lockdown).

Penterest (n) Generous grant introduced by the Irish Government to supplement freelance copywriters during leaner periods.

Tandemic (n) Term referencing the deep golden tans displayed by many Irish people towards the end of 2020. The tans were generally a result of multiple foreign holidays taken because of the newly booming economy.

Threekend(n) Three-day weekend introduced to help Irish workers strike a better work-life balance.

ToddleScan (n) Small hand-held device which can accurately detect toddler hunger levels. This reduces waste and the time spent cleaning up after mealtimes.

Turnabout20 (n) Refers to the final two months of 2020 which saw a remarkable turnaround in the world’s fortunes. Covid-19 was eradicated, the global economy recovered at an unprecedented rate and the legendary Marble chocolate bar made a welcome return to the shelves.

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