“Single-use”, a term that describes items whose unchecked proliferation are blamed for damaging the environment and affecting the food chain, has been named Collins’ Word of the Year 2018. Collins Dictionary’s lexicographers monitor the 4.5 billion-word Collins Corpus and create the annual list of new and notable words that reflect an ever-evolving culture and the preoccupations of those who use it.
“Single-use” refers to products – often plastic – that are “made to be used once only” before disposal. Images of plastic adrift in the most distant oceans, such as straws, bottles and bags have led to a global campaign to reduce their use. The word has seen a four-fold increase since 2013, with news stories and images such as those seen in the BBC’s Blue Planet II steeply raising public awareness of the issue.
Among Collins’ other words of the year for 2018 is another term to have emerged from the need to clean up the environment: “plogging”, a Scandinavian fitness craze that combines jogging with picking up litter. First noted in 2016, the fad has now spread around the world. “Vegan” also makes the list, as the lifestyle choice has become increasingly mainstream in recent years, from January’s “Veganuary” to even The Great British Bake-off featuring a “vegan week” this year.
The global campaign against predatory sexual behaviour, #MeToo, has also made the list. The Collins database shows that “MeToo” is transcending its original status as a social-media hashtag to become part of the language, as seen in phrases such as “the MeToo era” and “MeToo moment”. First noted in late 2017, the term has become ubiquitous in 2018. “Gaslight”, to manipulate others, often romantic partners, by leading them to question their sanity, has seen a twenty-fold increase over the past five years and is also included.
Exposure through online and public protest about film and television casting decisions where white actors are cast to play characters from minority ethnic groups has led to the inclusion of “whitewash”.
Helen Newstead, head of language content at Collins, said: “This has been a year where awareness and often anger over a variety of issues has led to the rise of new words and the revitalisation and adaptation of old ones. It’s clear from this year’s Words of the Year list that changes to our language are dictated as much by public concern as they are by sport, politics, and playground fads.”
Brexit, itself Collins’ Word of the Year in 2016, has inspired two words in this year’s list: “backstop” and “gammon”. Backstop, meaning a system that may be used if no other arrangement is made, appears due to its ubiquity in recent Brexit-negotiations reporting, while the derogatory term “gammon” has gained popularity as a term of abuse directed at the most reactionary pro-Brexit supporters.
The 2018 Fifa World Cup scores an entry for the acronym Var, meaning video assistant referee, a technology previously seen in other sports that was widely used and often controversial in matches throughout the tournament.
Finally, a different sort of tournament, the hugely successful online, last-man-standing video game Fortnite, has led to the inclusion of “floss”, referring to a victory dance performed by the winning gamer’s avatar. It has been a huge playground craze in 2018, and has been widely attempted in the worlds of sport, television and music.
Newstead said: “The words in this year’s list perhaps highlight a world at extremes – at one end, serious social and political concerns, and at the other, more light-hearted activities. All, however, contribute to the ever-evolving English language and will take their place on CollinsDictionary.com, and will be considered for future print editions.”
Collins Dictionary definitions
single-use – adjective: made to be used once only
backstop – noun: a system that will come into effect if no other arrangement is made
floss – noun: a dance in which people twist their hips in one direction while swinging their arms in the opposite direction with the fists closed
gammon – noun: a person, typically male, middle-aged, and white, with reactionary views, especially one who supports the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union
gaslight – verb: to attempt to manipulate (a person) by continually presenting them with false information until they doubt their sanity
MeToo – adjective: denoting a cultural movement that seeks to expose and eradicate predatory sexual behaviour, especially in the workplace
plogging – noun: a recreational activity, originating in Sweden, that combines jogging with picking up litter
VAR – abbreviation for: video assistant referee
vegan – noun: a person who refrains from using any animal product whatever for food, clothing, or any other purpose
whitewash – verb: to cast a white actor in the role of (a character from a minority ethnic group) or to produce (a film or play) using white actors to play characters from a minority ethnic group