Languages are always changing, and English is no exception. With every year, new words are created and perhaps even added to the dictionary, giving them a sense of permanence in a changing world.
In this article, the first of two on how English has changed and continues to expand, we explore how and why new words enter our lives. We also take a look at a few unusual business terms that have appeared in recent times.
Languages Hold a Mirror to Society
The beauty of any language is that it constantly evolves in an endlessly fascinating way. Different words evoke different eras in the manner of objects in a museum. Hearing the terms ‘blackout’, ‘blitz’ and ‘bomb shelter’ may instantly conjure up images of cities being battered by air raids during the Second World War, with the tang of smoke in the air, sirens wailing and piles of rubble all around. Equally, ‘nylons’ and ‘jitterbug’ might evoke the ‘devil may care’ side of the war, raising images of underground dance parties, jive bands and illicit drinking.
The year 2020 saw a raft of terms emerging that we had rarely used before, such as ‘social distancing’ and ‘lockdown’. The happy word ‘bubble’ has taken on a whole new meaning. In years to come, people will be able to precisely place the emergence of these terms alongside the appearance of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, we will also remember some of the more amusing expressions that have become popular, those that perfectly sum up the humour necessary to keep us smiling – terms such as ‘corona-coaster’, ‘locktail’ and ‘quarantini’, which reflect the highs and lows of having to stay isolated at home (perhaps drinking whatever alcohol we could find at the back of the cupboard after a long day in the home office!).
Additions to the Dictionary that Reflect Changing Business Trends
When it comes to the evolution of business jargon, the words ‘pager’, ‘hard sell’ and ‘personal organiser’ recall the corporate hedonism of the yuppy 1980s and 90s. But away from the shoulder pads and striped suits of the past, what are the more recent additions to the global business lexicon that it is useful to understand?
How about ‘disrupt’, for starters? ‘Disruption’ can refer to technology that radically changes the norm, such as 3D printing. ‘Disrupters’ are start-ups that challenge the status-quo and knock it sideways, such as Uber, a business where you can order and pay for a taxi from your smartphone (which, as we all know, is now Uber-quitous!).
‘Early adopters’ are people who embrace new technology and innovative ways of doing things, often encouraging others to do the same by becoming thought leaders in their online communities.
‘Contactless’ is a way of paying for goods in a shop by using your phone or a chip in your bank card. It has now become essential in many stores as a result of the pandemic because it encourages social distancing and avoids physical contact with the retailer.
‘Influencer’ refers to someone who has a dedicated social media following. They recommend and showcase brands to their audience. Instead of spending the bulk of their marketing budget on advertising, many businesses now engage social media stars who align with their brand to create more subtle promotions for their products or services.
Some New Business Terms to Make You Smile
Languages may evolve, but not every new word will make it into the dictionary. Some years add more words than others – and in 2020, the Oxford English Dictionary was unable to settle on one word to embody the entire year (as is its tradition), so it chose several words instead!
While many words have appeared or found new meaning across the world since the pandemic, here are a few of the more unusual words that resonated in 2020.
Perhaps you are reading this article during a coffee break in your ‘cloffice’, which is another term for a home office in your closet – one possible result of having to work from home during the pandemic. Maybe you witnessed a ‘techlash’, where a large technology company faced the ire of its users. Or perhaps you are convinced it is Wednesday, only to discover that it is already Thursday (or even only Tuesday) – it is therefore ‘Blursday’!
New words will continue to diversify and enrich the English language and all active languages around the world as they respond to social and cultural change. Look out for the second article in this two-part series, where we turn the clock back to look at some words that have fallen out of favour over time – who knows, maybe it is time to revive them!
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