The Collins dictionary has adopted an environmentally conscious approach to its “Word of the Year” award, bestowing 2018’s accolade on the term “single-use.”
As the world becomes increasingly aware of the damage caused by plastic waste, more and more people are turning their backs on disposable packaging, bringing the term single-use – or made to be used once only – into common parlance.
While single-use may have once epitomized a carefree and convenient lifestyle, it has now come to represent society’s worst excesses.
Images of plastic adrift in the ocean, causing the suffering and death of marine animals, have led to a global campaign to reduce its use.
Lexicographers for Collins create an annual list of new and notable words that reflect ever-changing culture and the preoccupations of those who experience it.
Their research has found that “single-use” is now four times as common as it was in 2013, with news stories and images such as those seen in the BBC’s Blue Planet II heightening public awareness of the issue.
Since the award’s inception, these timely terms have been singled out for special recognition: geek (2013), photobomb (2014), binge-watch (2015), Brexit (2016) and fake news (2017).
Green issues feature elsewhere on this year’s long list, with “plogging” also emerging as a popular conversational term.
The Scandinavian fitness craze combines jogging with a good deed – picking up litter. First noted in 2016, according to Collins, the fad has now spread around the world.
The list also includes “vegan” as the popularity of choosing not to eat or use animal-based products has gone from strength to strength in Britain – where the dictionary is published – and beyond.
#MeToo, the global campaign against predatory sexual behavior, also features. The Collins database shows the term transcended its original status as a social-media hashtag to become part of language, as seen in phrases such as “the MeToo era” and “MeToo moment.”
Similarly, “gaslight” – meaning to manipulate others, often romantic partners, by leading them to question their sanity – has seen a 20-fold increase over the past five years.
Protests about the casting of white actors as characters from minority ethnic groups has led to the inclusion of “whitewash.”
On a lighter note, the 2018 soccer FIFA World Cup scored an entry for the acronym “VAR,” meaning video assistant referee, technology that was widely used and often controversial in the tournament.
Meanwhile a tournament of a different kind – the blockbuster online video game Fortnite – has led to the inclusion of “floss,” a victory dance performed by the winning gamer’s avatar.
A huge playground craze in 2018, it has also been widely attempted by sport, music and TV stars.
Helen Newstead, head of language content at Collins, described 2018 as “a year where awareness and often anger over a variety of issues has led to the rise of new words and the revitalization and adaptation of old ones.”
“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.”