Insights November 23, 2020

Get up-to-date with the online lingo

Living Word
By Living Word

We have certainly learnt some interesting new words and expressions recently. While last year was all about the climate, 2020 has of course been centred around the pandemic. But what else have we been talking about, and what’s been happening on social media?

A few years ago, Donna Bowater wrote an interesting article for BBC News about the challenges facing translators in terms of street slang and poetry. She referenced in particular translating Brazilian Portuguese for an English-speaking audience and said: “From words that have no equivalent to cultural references and concepts, translators must find a balance between being faithful to the original work while giving the reader the most accurate understanding of Brazilianisms.”

New words pop up all the time, and in the English-speaking world, Collins Dictionary has just announced its Word of the Year 2020. Unsurprisingly, the chosen word is ‘lockdown’. In an article about the announcement, BBC reports that the word reflects a shared experience among billions of people. Language Content Consultant at Collins, Helen Newstead, says: “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.”

Among other shortlisted #collinsWOTY are, for instance, ‘coronavirus’, ‘key worker’, and ‘furlough’. But there are also terms unconnected to the pandemic. ‘TikToker’ is defined by Collins as “a person who regularly shares or appears in videos on the TikTok application”, while ‘Megxit’, naturally, refers to “the withdrawal of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from royal duties, announced in January 2020”. Previous years’ winners include ‘Brexit’ and ‘fake news’, but also the perhaps more positive ‘photobomb’ and ‘geek’.

Oxford Languages also chooses a word of the year, although the 2020 winner has not yet been announced. In 2019, the word was ‘climate emergency’, and previous examples include ‘youthquake’, ‘post-truth’ and ‘selfie’. In 2015, interestingly, an emoji was chosen instead, the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji.

Emojis and social media slang

Speaking of emojis, Twitter announced the most-used emojis of 2020 in celebration of World Emoji Day on 17 July. According to, the hashtag #WorldEmojiDay generates over four billion Twitter impressions each year, and it became the most popular worldwide trend on Twitter in 2020. This year, 117 new emojis were introduced, including ‘bubble tea’, ‘transgender flag’, and ‘black cat’. The most popular new emoji was ‘white heart’, the most anticipated was ‘smiling face with tear’, and the one that perhaps best represents the year of 2020 is the ‘raised fist’, embodying the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 

In order to understand what the audience is actually saying on social media and how to speak their language, it’s also important to understand the most common acronyms and slang. This article on the 130 most important social media acronyms and slang has the latest online lingo. For instance, AMA (‘ask me anything’) is common among celebrities, influencer and industry experts when inviting readers to ask questions, while BTS (‘behind the scenes’) is useful when giving followers a behind-the-scenes look of the brand. Another popular acronym is FOMO (‘fear of missing out’), relating to people’s desire to keep up with social media, often used to promote limited deals and exclusive product reveals.

The Business Insider has also published a handy list of 24 popular teen slang words used in 2020, along with explainers of what they actually mean. Commonly used among youngsters and Gen Z influencers is ‘extra’, which means being unnecessarily dramatic and over the top, as in “she’s so extra”. Other examples are ‘fire’, for something that is really cool and amazing, and ‘flex’, for flaunting and showing off. Meanwhile, ‘periodt’ is used to add emphasis to a point that has been made: “I don’t want to hear anything else about what I’m doing wrong until you find ways to get yourself right, periodt.”