DECEMBER 6TH - WORD OF THE YEAR
We all have our favourite books, but what about our favourite words?
Around this time every year, publishers of the Merriam Webster English Dictionary name their word of the year. Their 2020 choice, announced this week, is “pandemic”.
Fair enough. One particular pandemic has shaped our lives this year in ways we couldn’t have predicted twelve months ago. And we can’t fault Merriam Webster for keeping their fingers on the pulse. In 2010, when cuts in public spending began to bite under a new government, their choice for word of the year was “austerity”. In 2016, when a sociopathic game show host was elected President of the United States, they went with “surreal”.
But should language exist only to apply labels, or should we expect something more?
Around the world we see daily evidence of language building bridges. Translators and interpreters help companies develop new business relationships in markets that would otherwise remain out of reach. China, for example has a middle-class numbering over 400 million. That’s more than the entire populations of Britain and the USA combined. Chinese consumers are affluent and discerning, and they expect to be communicated with in their native language. Use the right words and you can get their attention and their money.
Language builds bridges in other vital ways, of course. Britain may have chosen to leave the European Union but there are many EU initiatives to be admired. One of the most valuable is the neighbour languages programme, which teaches children to communicate with those across their nearest border. The United Nations has followed a similar path in Africa, with people living near the border of Somalia and Ethiopia, for example, encouraged to learn the language of those close by, turning hostile border disputes into conversations between neighbours. Simple communication mends fences. It stops wars.
In this year of the pandemic there were moments to be celebrated and there were words to describe them. In Cwmbwrla we found the right actions through community champions like Al Cryf East, Anne Roberts, Lynn Allen and Paul Dempster. We’ll remember 2020 not just as the year of the pandemic but the year when we united against it.
Language can amuse us by reflecting the fad of a moment, and it can annoy us by giving a label to things we’d rather forget. And it can elevate us by capturing the spirit of people of character and compassion. In Cwmbwrla in 2020 the coronavirus pandemic hit us hard but we’re still standing.
The word of the year is community.