What Word Defines the 21st Century?

Languages are constantly evolving as new words are created or take on a new meaning to reflect the issues of the day.

Suzie Dent of ‘Countdown‘ fame (a UK quiz show which splices the word game ‘Boggle’ with mental arithmetic, and is almost required viewing for many a university student, myself included) is now accepting votes to decide on which word or phrase best reflects the 21st century in the UK thus far. The shortlist is dominated by words that reflect the wider issues in the world from the last eight years, as well as those closer to home.

The nominations are as follows:

Axis of Evil – coined by George Bush, Jan 2002, to define the threat of WMDs and terrorism posed by a group of countries.

Bling – garish jewelry and the extravagant, opulent lifestyle associated with celebrity culture.

Chav – snobby UK word for those deemed to be lower class in how they behave and dress.

Bovvered – coined by UK comedian Catherine Tate, and now synonymous with describing the attitude of an apathetic youth who ‘couldn’t care less’.

9/11 – reference point for the terrorist attacks that acted as a catalyst for the decade’s world events.

SARS and Bird Flu – apocalyptic soothsayers have long predicted an outbreak of a virus without a cure. SARS and Bird Flu were both such contagious diseases that have rung alarm bells this decade.

Sex up – phrase for the supposed upgrading of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’ to provide justification for war. Now used more commonly when something is embellished or exaggerated to achieve a desired reaction.

Footprint – new term created to identify an action’s impact on the environment. One of many new words and phrases born from the renewed enthusiasm for environmental issues.

Bowser – used for transporting clean water, and gained popularity during the UK’s heavy floods this summer.

You can vote online for your preferred choice, or nominate a new word or phrase if you can think of a better one.

‘Spin’ might be a worthy addition because its definition as twisting the facts to suit your own purposes could be obsolete in the next decade if the online fervor for transparency and exposing falsehoods continues.

Whilst I’m on the subject of exposing subtle uses of the English language, Boots pharmacy have started selling a new spray with the following description [link via The Marketing Blog]:

boots water spray


“gentle facial spritz specially formulated to refresh and hydrate. Hypoallergenic and fragrance-free it instantly cools and freshens skin. Lanolin free. Dermatologically tested.”

Sound enticing? But at £3.99 for a cupful you might think twice when you check the contents. The only listed ingredient is ‘Aqua’, or what is more commonly known as water to you and me.

Reports that Boots will also be releasing a range of special toothbrushes for people to brush their tongues haven’t been substantiated.

2 Comments. Leave new

Based on my visits to the UK in the twenty-first century, I’d say things are best summed up by some variation on “CCTV In Use.”

“stealth marketing”

it’s not just for corporations anymore…

good post.

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