LONDON, England–November 10th, 2020–Collins Dictionary said on Tuesday that “lockdown” is its Word of The Year in 2020 following a dramatic increase in usage during the spread of COVID-19.
Lexicographers said they picked the word because it had become synonymous with the experience of populations across the world as governments look to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is a unifying experience for billions of people across the world, who have had collectively to play their part in combating the spread of COVID-19,” publisher Harper Collins said.
Apparently, the word is of North American origin and originally referred to “a piece of wood used in the construction of rafts when transporting timber downriver, consisting of a strip or branch bent around the horizontal poles and secured into holes in the logs. Later: a peg, pin, or similar device used to fasten something in place”.
The first example of this usage is, apparently, from 1832: “That it shall be the duty of said corporation to raft all lumber in said boom without any unnecessary delay, securely and faithfully with suitable poles and lock-downs.” The word is still used in that sense phrases like ‘lockdown frame’ and ‘lockdown device’.
However, it may be that the term ‘tie-down’ is now used more commonly in that context.
It would take another century for the modern sense of ‘lockdown’ (related to ‘to lock down’) to emerge, as in: “The confinement of prisoners to their cells for an extended period of time, usually as a security measure following a disturbance; the time at which such confinement begins. Also used in the context of a psychiatric hospital or other secure unit.”
The first use listed is from 1973: “A full-scale lockdown was imposed immediately after the knifing”. One can almost hear the prison stuff shooting the bolts in the prison cells… or indeed pegs or pins or similar devices …
Collins registered more than a quarter of a million usages of “lockdown” during 2020, against only 4,000 in 2019.
Because of the way the pandemic has affected the daily use of language, six of Collins’ 10 words of the year in 2020 are related to the global health crisis.
“Coronavirus,” “social distancing,” “self-isolate” and “furlough” as well as “lockdown” and “key worker” were included in the longer list of 10 words of the year.
“Key worker” alone has seen a 60-fold increase in usage reflecting the importance attributed in 2020 to professions considered to be essential to society.
“2020 has been dominated by the global pandemic,” Helen Newstead, a language consultant at Collins, said.
“Lockdown has affected the way we work, study, shop and socialize.
“With many countries entering a second lockdown, it is not a word of the year to celebrate but it is, perhaps, one that sums up the year for most of the world.”
Collins defines “lockdown” as “the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction, and access to public spaces.”
According to the dictionary, coronavirus is, “Any one of a group of RNA-containing viruses that can cause infectious illnesses of the respiratory tract, including COVID-19.”
Significant social and political developments beyond the virus have also been reflected in the list, which has already made its way into online editions of the English dictionary.