Coronavirus has been named Children’s Word Of The Year.
Lexicographers at Oxford University Press (OUP) analysed words used by thousands of young writers in submissions to a children’s story competition.
Young writing entrants to the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show’s 500 Words story competition used the word 459 times, while other words associated with the COVID-19 pandemic such as NHS, virus, antibodies, epidemic, Wuhan and lockdown also featured among the 134,709 entries.
Despite the competition closing on February 27, before the UK was sent into lockdown, the word coronavirus still featured heavily.
Helen Freeman, director of Oxford Children’s Dictionaries and Language Data at Oxford University Press, said she was surprised by the mentions of coronavirus so early in the year.
“Some of the stories definitely had a sense of something looming and almost prophetic and a sense of something heading our way,” she said.
“They are seeking answers to problems, they’re seeking cures. Some of them can be very funny – you’ve got unicorns leaning across and whispering the cure for coronavirus…
“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,” she told BBC.
“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.”
Commenting on the findings Zoe Ball, Radio 2 Breakfast show presenter, said: “The 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!”
The Australian bush fires and their impact on wild animals, especially kangaroos and koalas, also featured strongly in the children’s stories.
Meanwhile, awareness of environmental activism has also risen, with mentions of Greta Thunberg up 1,755% on last year.
Previous Children’s Word of the Year have also given an insight into the influence global affairs can have on children’s creativity.
From Brexit (2019), plastic (2018), Trump (2017), and refugee (2016), it seems children are pretty clued up when it comes to knowing what is going on in the world.
The Oxford Children’s Word Of The Year has been announced ahead of the 500 Words Final, which will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on Friday 12 June 2020, with the winning stories read by celebrities including David Walliams, Dua Lipa, Joanna Lumley, Jodie Whittaker and Mwaka Mudenda.