Furlough, social distancing and take a knee - phrases that defined 2020

Dr Henry Mannings suggests not wearing masks and scrapping social distancing for healthy people woul

Dr Henry Mannings suggests not wearing masks and scrapping social distancing for healthy people would allow herd immunity to develop and potentially weaken the impact of coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The past year has been one like no other - with the Covid-19 pandemic transforming our lives, potentially forever.

What seems relatively normal now, 12 months ago would have felt alien and at times far-fetched. 

With real-world change often also comes alterations to our vocabulary - the words and phrases we use on a day-to-day basis. 

And this year more than ever, words and phrases otherwise seldom uttered have now found themselves part of the everyday vernacular.

Phrases like social distancing, furlough and even coronavirus itself have become almost as frequently used as hello and goodbye this year.

Rishi Sunak has extended the furlough scheme until March. Photo credit should read: Matt Dunham/PA W

Rishi Sunak has extended the furlough scheme until March. Photo credit should read: Matt Dunham/PA Wire - Credit: PA

However, Fiona McPherson, an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, said these were not brand new phrases exclusive to this pandemic.

She said: "Furlough is a particularly interesting one - it is one you would not tend to hear often before this year but it actually has its origins in American English going back to the 1800s. Before this year, to the average Brit it may not have meant that much.

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"Even phrases like PPE or coronavirus itself have been around since the 1960s, but naturally world events bring certain words and phrases to the forefront."

UEA nurses in PPE. Picture: UEA

UEA nurses in PPE. Picture: UEA - Credit: Archant

Ms McPherson also said the pandemic had resulted in the invention of words and phrases, such as 'quarantini' meaning a drink enjoyed during lockdown and 'covidiot', meaning somebody seen as being non-compliant or ignorant of coronavirus restrictions.

Ms McPherson added that phrases such as 'take a knee' had also grown in prominence during 2020, as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, while US politics had seen people become more familiar with words like 'impeachment' and 'acquittal'. 

Cricketers take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the recent Bob Willis Tr

Cricketers take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the recent Bob Willis Trophy match at the Kia Oval Picture: John Walton/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Meanwhile, the year also saw a number of new words and phrases officially added to the dictionary, including 'cookie monster', 'adorkable' and 'vuvuzela'.

Ms McPherson said: "A cookie monster is a person or thing that resembles the Sesame Street character in being ravenous or gorging their food. 'Adorkable' is an amalgamation of the words adorable and dork, meaning somebody who is socially awkward in an endearing way, while vuvuzelas are the large horn-shaped instruments which were made famous during the 2010 World Cup.

"Another interesting one we've added this year that feels appropriate in 2020 is digital nomad, meaning a person who can adapt to working digitally in various locations - 'have laptop: will travel' types."

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