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Oxford Children’s Word of the Year 2020 is Coronavirus

Oxford Children’s Word of the Year 2020 is Coronavirus

10 June 2020

We have announced ‘Coronavirus’ as Children’s Word of the Year 2020, following its prevalence in story submissions to the BBC Radio 2 500 Words writing competition.

From the 134,709 entries, analysis revealed ‘Coronavirus’ was used 459 times, with other words associated with the pandemic also increasing in frequency, including NHS, virus, antibodies, epidemic, and lockdown.

In many stories, the word was specifically associated with China. Given that the closing date of the 500 Words competition was 27 February 2020—coincidentally, the day before the first case of transmission within the UK was documented—this can be understood on the basis that news stories had been reporting on the rapidly emerging crisis in the city of Wuhan and later across the country.

Many narratives contained realistic physiological and medical details associated with the coronavirus. For example, one entry titled The Ex included the following: ‘The nurses came running over. I felt a pain in my neck, I started to gasp for air. My body started shaking I couldn't control myself. My eyes rolled to the back of my head, a mask covered my mouth, my heart rate dropped, my temperature raised and I have the corona virus.’

Other young writers used a blend of humour, fantasy, and creativity writing about searching for cures and diving into science fiction. One entrant wrote about getting a blue magic potion from The Smurfs, while another submission, The Magical Cure, included: ‘That night I had an interesting dream, a magical sparkling unicorn came and whispered to me the secret ingredients of the cure for the Coronavirus.’ 

This is the 10th anniversary of 500 Words. The competition was originally created by Chris Evans for the Radio 2 Breakfast Show in 2011 and has now received more than 1 million entries, generating more than 440 million words. Previous Children’s Words of the Year include Brexit (2019), plastic (2018), Trump (2017), and refugee (2016), indicating the influence of global affairs on children’s creativity.

Helen Freeman, Director of Oxford Children’s Dictionaries & Language Data commented: ‘Once again, the analysis of the children’s writing has revealed how tuned in young people are to global events and how real-world  events can inspire such a variety of stories and writing styles, from apocalyptic science fiction, to fairy tales, and humour. It’s striking that so many children are choosing to explore these themes and ideas in their writing, and it’s a complete delight for us to read their stories in this special 10th anniversary year.’

Zoe Ball, Radio 2 Breakfast show presenter added: ‘OUP’s analysis is so fascinating. Revealing, to no surprise, that kids are so aware of everything that’s going on in the world around them and then are able to turn it into the most brilliant, engaging and imaginative stories!’

Read more about the 2020 Children’s Word of the Year