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Keeping Mum#9 Respair – word of the year for 2021

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) recently announced its annual round-up of the top 20 words of the year: no prizes for guessing what any of them are.  In a genius move Waterstones launched rival “Word of the Year” to discover words less travelled.  The winner by some margin was Mumpsimus – from the 17th century English describing someone who insists they are right, despite clear evidence they are wrong. 

We all know a Mumpsimus, certainly evident on the odd zoom call; but the last four or so years have also identified those on more public stages pontificating on various issues. Whether the Waterstones vote was in protest at certain individuals, or in support of Mumpsimus as a delicious, chew around the mouth sort of word, who knows. 

In a similar vein, Countdown presenter (Dictionary corner) Susie Dent has contributed particularly pithy single word commentary on various aspects of events this year.  All are olde-worlde from way back in the day, but oh-so relevant on many levels.  Here are a few of the favourites:

Nod-crafty:  given to nodding one’s head with an air of great understanding when you’re really not listening at all; (particularly relevant to the weird way one’s attention span seems to have dwindled to well below the R number).

Respair – fresh hope, recovery from despair.  (the OEDs top word of 2021 – you read it here first).

Smellfungus – a habitual fault-finder; one who immediately takes offence without a second glance. (remember lockdown#1 – something of a permanent fixture in many a household).

Spuddle – to be uselessly busy (ah, lockdown#1 again).

Snollygoster – one who abandons all integrity in favour of power. (Eye test anyone?).

In a more contemporary linguistic celebration, a clear favourite has been Quarantini; the result of rummaging at the back of the cupboard for very probably past date alcohol to experiment with lockdown cocktails.

Resilience would be our word of the year.  In every direction, in so many difficult circumstances, resilience has been, often silently, the only word required.

With any luck we will be able to consign much of the verbage of 2020 into a neat parcel and shoved into the metaphorical loft never to be used again. Resilience we’ll keep out as we’re likely to need it for a while longer.

So, our best advice for an unprecedented Christmas could be to spuddle hard in the run-up, settle in and respair, ignore the smellfungi and snollygosters around, and if in doubt, get stuck in to the quarantinis. 

Annabel James is founder of Her views – and her words – are her own.