‘Iso’ Has Been Named 2020’s Word of the Year in Australia


The year 2020 has seen us add a number of previously unfamiliar or lesser-used phrases and words to our day-to-day vocabularies.

‘Unprecedented’, ‘social distancing’, ‘pandemic’, ‘COVID-safe’, ‘contactless’ — they’re all words that helped define 2020, and whether or not we like these words and what they mean is unrelated to the fact these terms are now part of our everyday vernacular.

Another word that saw a lot of airtime in 2020? Isolation. No longer merely a way to describe a separation from others, the word’s definition shifted in 2020 to refer to the periods of prolonged time we all spent at home during lockdowns.

In fact, the word had such profound resonance that it beat all others to be crowned ‘Word of the Year’ by the Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC) in 2020. Except, it was the Australian-style abbreviation ‘Iso’ that won the accolade, not the word ‘Isolation’ in its entirety.

According to The Guardian, the ANDC’s Word of the Year is typically awarded to a word or phrase that has “gained prominence in the Australian social landscape”.

While ‘Black Summer’ (relating to the catastrophic bushfire season of 2019-2020), ‘COVID-Normal’ and ‘Bubble’ were finalist contenders for the recognition, ultimately, it was ‘Iso’ that the researchers found most significant as the word to define 2020.

“Our fondness for abbreviating words in Australia, and a natural human inclination to make the unknown and scary familiar, quickly saw the descriptive term ‘self-isolation’ shortened to ‘iso’ in March this year,” said Mark Gwynn, a senior researcher at the ANDC, according to The Australian.

“Not only is ‘iso’ distinctively Australian in usage, it has also been linguistically productive by combining with other words to form compounds such as iso baking, iso-bar, iso-cut and iso-fashion.”

Gwynn acknowledges ‘Iso’ as an abbreviation was something of a humourous and jovial way for Australians to cope with the pandemic and the way it changed working and social interactions. During lockdowns, Aussie’s adjusted to iso-dating and iso-baking.

“This virus has really changed the way that we live, and it has changed the way we communicate,” Gwynn said to The Guardian. “Historically ‘iso’ will be commented upon. For all we know, this virus is not going away anytime soon, we will be living this again next year, and we will be talking about it.

“If you talk about the language of the pandemic generally, you have got this medicalisation of the vocabulary. We have all suddenly become familiar with all this medical terminology we didn’t even know before. But these other terms like ‘iso’ – I think ‘iso’ will be one way that we will talk about this period for a long time.”

In 2019, ANDC’s Word of the Year was ‘Voice’.

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