At the end of November Collins English Dictionary released their 2021 Words of the Year. Let’s look at the winners and runners up on today’s episode of Thinking in English!!

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It’s now December, and the time of the year when we begin to look back over events and trends of the past 12 months. Did you do everything you wanted to in 2021? What were the major events that occurred this year? How has the world changed? Perhaps I will make some episodes covering these topics in the next few weeks. For English students, and language nerds, probably the most useful thing to think about is the trends in language use over the past year! 

Language is not a static thing. Language is flexible, growing, changing, evolving, and always developing. Every year words are invented; words become popular; words get new meanings. At the same time, words can disappear and become uncool or untrendy. For this reason,  you can’t just rely on vocabulary textbooks to help you learn English. If you want to keep up to date with the latest events, trends, and major stories, it is important that you are aware of the popular words over the past year!

So today, let’s look at the most popular words of 2021. At the end of November every year, some of the world’s largest dictionaries release their Word of the Year results. I actually recorded an episode last year about the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2020. I really recommend checking that episode out as there is a lot of good vocabulary you can learn, and I introduce some more of the background about the Word of the Year decision. As always, it will be linked in the description and on the blog!

This year, I will introduce you to the Collins Dictionary Word of the Year 2021.  So, without further ado, let’s discover the top 10 words of 2021!

NFT (ˌɛnɛfˈtiː) 

The 2021 Collins Dictionary Word of the Year is NFT. Now, before I define this word, I’m just going to make it clear that I know very little about digital money and cryptocurrencies, but related vocabulary actually appears a few times on Collins’ list. I’m sure some of you listening are experts on this topic, while others will have never heard of these things before – so I will try to give simple definitions.

Ok, back on topic. The Word of the Year for 2021 is NFT. Actually, NFT is an abbreviation for ‘Non-fungible token.’ A non-fungible token refers to a way of proving that you own something digitally. It is a kind of unique digital certificate registered using blockchain technology, meaning that ownership of the certificate can always be traced. These tokens are used to record ownership of different assets; at the moment it is mainly for artwork and collectibles, but in the future non-fungible tokens could have other uses. 

Furthermore, NFT is not just used to refer to the digital record of ownership of assets, but also refers to the asset itself. An NFT is an asset whose ownership is recorded through a non-fungible token. For example, a few mainstream artists including Damian Hirst have begun selling their art as NFTs! Do you own any NFTs?

Next, let’s look at runners up for Word of the Year!

Cheugy (ˈtʃuːɡɪ) 

Cheugy is a slang term that has been around for a few years, but became increasingly popular over the past 12 months. Cheugy is used to mock someone or something as no longer being cool or fashionable. It is often used to describe someone who is out of date or trying too hard to be relevant and cool. Cheugy is the opposite of trendy. I guess a lot of the fashionable clothes my friends bought when we were in high school 10 years ago would probably be considered as cheugy now. If you want to learn some more slang, check out the episode I did on British slang terms!

Climate anxiety (ˈklaɪmət æŋˈzaɪɪtɪ) noun

I’m sure in the future climate anxiety is going to become a much more serious issue all around the world. Climate anxiety is defined by Collins as ‘a state of distress caused by concern about climate change.’ Worries, concerns, and trepidation about the future and the impacts climate change could have on our lives is causing people to experience real negative emotions. This is climate anxiety. With the COP26 meeting in Scotland a few weeks ago, climate anxiety has become an even problem (here is my episode on COP26 if you are interested)

Crypto (ˈkrɪptəʊ) 

Just like NFT, crypto is a word firmly in the world of cryptocurrencies. In fact, crypto is short cryptocurrency. Defining crypto in only a few words is not an easy task… Here is the Collins dictionary definition; “a decentralised digital medium of exchange which is created, regulated and exchanged using cryptography and (usually) open-source software, and typically used for online purchases.” In other words, a virtual or digital form of currency which is nearly impossible to counterfeit (make fakes) as it is secured by cryptography and permanently recorded on blockchain technology. The most famous cryptos are bitcoin and ethereum!

Double-vaxxed (ˌdʌbəlˈvækst) 

If you are double-vaxxed, you have received two vaccinations against a disease. Double-jabbed is also used. Now, I’m sure you all know which disease we want to be double-vaxxed against, right? Are you double-vaxxed? I’m actually triple-vaxxed… and I think you’ll start to see people talking about triple-vaxxed and Covid booster vaccinations more over the next few months!

Hybrid working (ˌhaɪbrɪd ˈwɜːkɪŋ)

Hybrid working has become much more common over the past year. Hybrid working is defined by Collins as “the practice of alternating between different working environments, such as from home and in an office.” Due to the pandemic, many companies have been reluctant to allow all employees back to the office at the same time: instead, hybrid working allows some employees to work in the office and others at home. I’ve actually been ‘hybrid studying’ recently – classes at my graduate school are offered in the classroom and on zoom at the same time!

Metaverse (ˈmɛtəˌvɜːs) noun

I recorded an episode on the metaverse only a few weeks ago! Make sure to listen to it if you haven’t already! I provide a much more detailed definition in that episode, but in simple terms the metaverse is “a proposed version of the internet that incorporates three-dimensional virtual environments.” Rather than just existing on your computer or smartphone, the metaverse will use new technology to make a more immersive experience!

Neopronoun (ˌniːəʊˈprəʊˌnaʊn) noun

Pronouns have become a political and social issue in recent times. Pronouns are technically words that refer to a noun or group of nouns, but it may be easier to just give you some examples: I, me, he, she, you, it. Different languages have different ways of using pronouns: Japanese rarely uses pronouns, Chinese pronouns distinguish between male and female when writing but not when speaking, Fijian language has the largest pronoun system of any language. English pronouns distinguish between men and women. 

However, what if you feel like ‘he’ or ‘she’ doesn’t really reflect who you are? What if you would prefer to use general neutral pronouns? Well, that is where neopronouns come in. A neopronoun is a newly created pronoun, usually designed to avoid gender distinctions. A neopronoun would be used in place of he, she, and they. There are lots of examples of neopronouns online, so if you’re interested feel free to research them yourself!

Pingdemic (ˌpɪŋˈdɛmɪk) 

Pingdemic is a combination of the words ‘ping’ and ‘pandemic.’ The pingdemic refers to ‘the large-scale notification of members of the public by a contact-tracing app.’ Depending on your country’s contact-tracing apps for stopping the prevention of coronavirus, the pingdemic might be a little different. In the UK, if you spent time with someone who then tests positive for coronavirus, you will get a notification on your phone telling you to isolate yourself. The pingdemic refers to this but on a really large scale, when tens of thousands of people are forced to isolate after being close to an infected person

Regencycore (ˈriːdʒənsɪˌkɔː) 

The final runner up for Word of the Year is regencycore. And thankfully, regencycore has nothing to do with the pandemic or cryptocurrencies! Regencycore is “a style of dress inspired by clothes worn in high society during the Regency period.” The regency period was about 200 years ago in Europe, and has a very distinctive fashion style (1811–20). After the success of shows like Bridgerton on Netflix, people have become interested in regencycore and decided to dress in 19th century style clothing!

Final Thought

So those are the Collins Dictionary Words of the Year 2021. The Word of the Year was NFT, with climate anxiety, double-vaxxed, metaverse, pingdemic, cheugy, crypto, hybrid working, neopronoun, and regencycore runners up. Which words are new to you? Which have you heard or used before? Can you incorporate any of these terms into your vocabulary?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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