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Humanities and Contemporary Popular Culture

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Impact of Popular Culture on the English Language

Popular culture is a set of beliefs, behavior, practices, or objects that are dominant for a particular period of time in the society (Rothoni 2017).

It is a vernacular of that predominates in a certain society for a specific period of time.

Pop culture may encompass music, language, books, movies, or even TV shows.

English language is one of the most spoken languages in the world.

Pop culture will likely have an influence of the English language because the language is spoken by millions of people around the world. Actually, English is the most spoken and largest language in the world. If changes in pop culture through movies, music, or even TV shows will have an influence on a language, English will probably be the one affected. Pop culture can influence the English language through the dominant use of a certain word or even the change in meaning.


Pop culture is actually enhanced by a certain language.

Some cultures are known to be very popular because of the popularity of their languages.

In this case, cultures in societies that speak the English language may become very popular because of the popularity of English.

An example is the American culture, where English is the most dominant language.

English language may be a bridge through which American or English culture becomes more popular. This, as mentioned above, is because English is widely spoken all over the world. In 2020, the phrase Black Lives Matter was very popular not only in England and in the United States, but all over the world. This phrase was widely used to show negativity towards racism. It spread rapidly across the world because it was in English, and English is widely spoken across the world.


The Word of the Year

‘Word of the Year’ is an assessment by various organizations as to the most important or expression of the year.

Various organizations, such as Oxford, announce the ‘Word of the Year’ at the end of every year (Skiba 2016).

It is usually the most used word or expression in a particular year.

The ‘Word of the Year’ is always selected after a vote by certain linguistics in a certain organization. The ‘word of the Year’ is usually the most used expression or word by people across the world because of a certain reason. It could as a result of cultural behavior, crime, disease, or various other reasons. This word may influence the English language in the way it is used. It may also be used by people in a certain place to stress on certain meanings.


The ‘Word of the Year’ may be different as voted by various organizations (Skiba 2016).

However, it is very likely that various organizations announce a similar ‘Word of the Year’.

Also, organizations may just select a ‘Word of the Year’ from a certain region only.

For example in 2016, Collins dictionary’s word of the year was ‘Brexit’, while Macquarie’s Word of the Year was ‘fake news’.

The example above shows that the ‘Word of the Year’ varies among different organizations. Differences exist because many popular and widely used words may be used in a particular period of time. It is therefore not straightforward that only a particular word will be chosen by all the organizations. In the example of Collins dictionary, the word ‘brexit’ was widely used in England and all over the world to refer to Britain’s pending vote to either remain in the European Union or exit.


Oxford’s Dictionary 2020 Word of the Year

Oxford Dictionary did not have a particular word as the word of the year in 2020.

This is because many words were popular in the year as a result of the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Words such as ‘lockdown’, ‘Covid 19’, ‘pandemic’ and ‘curfew’ were widely used by many people across the world as a result of the pandemic.

Covid 19 was and is still a global pandemic that has affected many people across the world. Many people have been negatively affected through deaths, interference of normal social life, business challenges and many other reasons. There have been dominant words that have been used everywhere in the world because of similar reactions by governments across the world as a reaction to the pandemic.


Lockdown is one such word that could easily have been Oxford Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’.

As a reaction to the rapid spread of the Covid 19 virus, governments across the world had to come up with measures to contain the spread (Collivignarelli 2020).

One such measure was imposing lockdowns on the whole country or on particular cities.

Total lockdowns were imposed by some governments, where no foreigners were required to visit the particular country until after a specific period of time. This would ensure that there would be minimal contact with possibly Covid 19 infected foreigners, and therefore limit the spread of the virus. Lockdowns were also imposed on some regions such as highly populated cities in order to limit the spread of the virus to other regions. The word lockdown was therefore very popular worldwide.


The ease at which the word spread across the world did not surprise me.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many governments and people generally were panicked and wondered what they would do to limit the spread and effect of the virus.

When a few nations introduced the idea of lockdowns, several nations followed suit.

The disease first begun in China and spread like wildfire across the world. Governments had to do something to protect their citizens. Many people, including those who did not know about lockdowns before, knew the meaning of the word very well. Some reacted to the word and its effect very negatively as it interfered with day to day life. However, some were glad to see their governments invent ways to spread the virus.


2020 The year of lockdown

The above image illustrates the effect of the word lockdown on the year 2020. 2020 was indeed the year of lockdown. Many nations locked down their countries or most populous cities as a reaction to the Covid 19 pandemic. The economy and even social life was greatly affected. Many people were required to stay indoors in order to prevent themselves from catching the virus. Lockdowns were applied almost everywhere across the world. Millions of people were directly affected.



The above image perfectly descries the meaning of the word lockdown. In the picture above, a lock is attached to chains in order to lock the house and everything inside. The lockdown measures worked the same. People under lockdown were not supposed to move outside of their confined areas. Some of these lockdown measures were toughest in some areas such as in Wuhan, China, where the disease originated from (Collivignarelli 2020).


Lockdown is a perfect example of the ‘word of the Year’.

It was indeed the ‘Word of the Year’, alongside other words such as pandemic.

Pandemic was another word that was widely used in 2020 because of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Pandemic means a disease that spreads and affects people globally over period of time.

Many people, even those who are fluent in English, came across the word ‘lockdown’ for the first time in 2020. The word had not been used more in other years. The word was so popular because it affected almost everyone in the world. Most governments imposed lockdown measures in order to limit the spread of Covid 19.



Rothoni, A. (2017). The interplay of global forms of pop culture and media in teenagers’‘interest-driven’everyday literacy practices with English in Greece. Linguistics and Education, 38, 92-103.

Collivignarelli, M. C., Abbà, A., Bertanza, G., Pedrazzani, R., Ricciardi, P., & Miino, M. C. (2020). Lockdown for CoViD-2019 in Milan: What are the effects on air quality?. Science of The Total Environment, 732, 139280.

Skiba, D. J. (2016). Face with tears of joy is word of the year: are emoji a sign of things to come in health care?. Nursing education perspectives, 37(1), 56-57.