• Loie Favre

The most used words of 2020: how translators and interpreters adapted this year

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

This past year has brought a new reality to everyone, worldwide. There’s one common thing that united us all, and that was “lockdown”. The BBC reports that this is the word of 2020, as defined by the Collins dictionary. What other words marked 2020 and what were some things language professionals had to do to adapt to changing times and linguistic needs?

A picture with a sign that says The World is Temporarily Closed.
What were the most used words in 2020?

The word lockdown had a 62% increase in usage from 2019 to 2020 up to 250,000 times - so many of us could never have fathomed that this would happen to us. It united us, for better or for worse, and still continues to have an impact, as new lockdowns are reinstated in some countries, like in Germany where I presently live.

According to Collins, a lockdown signifies “the containment measure implemented by governments around the world to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

What were the other most used words in 2020?

  • Coronavirus

  • BLM (Black Lives Matter)

  • Key worker

  • Furlough

  • Self-isolate

  • Social distancing

  • MEGXit

  • TikToker

  • Mukbang

What is mukbank?

I admit the last one, mukbank, which means “a video or webcast in which the host eats a large quantity of food for the entertainment of viewers” is not a word that I really came across. It's a strange human phenomenon that I haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying (yet!).

What is MEGXit?

Megxit is a slang term for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry stepping back from their royal duties in the British royal family and leaving for the US.

Importance of BLM (Black Lives Matter)

To have something so significant and important take center stage globally is a move in the right direction for this civil movement, to recognize and put forward the struggles, hardships, and protests that go into raising awareness and making a change in institusialized racism.

How did language professionals adapt to neologisms and the increased usage of certain words for COVID-19?

When coronavirus arrived, there was a big question mark above everyone’s heads, it was a mystery to us all. But translators and language professionals, who are responsible for the proper translation and usage of words and expression for the purpose of informing and educating on actual fact, needed to act fast to make sure the right words were used. There was a huge movement of groups of translators who got together to create new glossaries in the field of medicine and science that would reflect the new reality. Doctors, nurses and medical staff needed to get accurate information in their language.

Organizations like Translators without Borders helped developing countries get access to the right information so that the people there were informed on best practices. They partnered with many different organizations, like some academic institutions (Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University) and industry partners (Amazon, Appen, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Translated) to create Tico-19. They created:

New trends, new words, new research

With new trends, come new words. Translators and Interpreters need to stay on top of their game depending on the industry they are in. That’s why translators, like any type of writer or journalist, needs to keep up with the news and stay up to date with trends.

How can translators follow the latest trends

  1. Set up a Feedly account or other newsfeed service for your niche and area of specialization.

  2. Set up a Translation and Localization feed as well - You can follow Favre Translations Language Blog there as well!

  3. Follow world news.

  4. Read niche blogs on Medium.

  5. Be active in communities to understand the usage of words and idioms in a certain context. There you have the added benefit of asking questions.

What words will come in 2021 do you think? Let me know in the comments down below.


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