Children’s Word of the Year 2014
Our Children’s Dictionaries department has today announced the Children’s Word of the Year for 2014: ‘minion’.
The word was chosen after analysis of the entries to the 2014 BBC Radio 2 500 WORDS competition, in which children aged 13 and under were invited to compose an original work of fiction, using no more than 500 words. We analysed the 50 million words contained in the 118,632 entries using our Oxford Children’s Corpus. The Corpus is a large electronic database of real and authentic children’s language that provides evidence for language theorists and practitioners of how children’s language behaves. It contains language written for children (34 million words) and also language written by children (120 million words).
Word of the Year: minion
The results are in, and we have elevated the humble minion in stature, declaring it ‘Children’s Word of the Year’ because of a whopping 250% increase in popularity since last year’s competition – and it is all thanks to those small, yellow creatures with goggles from Despicable Me. Gru, from the same film, along with Emmet from The Lego Movie are both new entrants into the leader board of fictional characters this year.
The popularity of Minecraft and other narrative games has led to children discovering and employing a whole host of words they would never normally use – hence a huge increase in the use of words such as ocelot, nether, and spawn.
Rain and snow
With many entries written in the immediate aftermath of extreme winter weather, floods have swept into the stories, with a 60% increase on 2013. Images of burst river banks, coastal flooding, power cuts, and rescue operations clearly made an impression – unsurprisingly the largest influence was seen in stories written in the south of England. The Winter Olympics also dominated the news at the beginning of the year and, as with London 2012, its sporting events and superhuman athletes have entered the fictional fray, with snowboarding enjoying a 564% increase in popularity and medal winners Jenny Jones and Lizzy Yarnold making their 500 WORDS debuts.
From Queen Victoria to Cristiano Ronaldo
Interestingly, of the real-life figures mentioned in the tales, Adolf Hitler makes 641 appearances, while Queen Victoria is the second most mentioned figure from our past, amusing us 258 times (and making it into the Top 50 stories shortlisted in the final). Heading up the fictional superheroes, Superman flies into first place, with 594 name checks, but Gotham City’s (and The Lego Movie’s) Batman is hot on his heels.
Chris Evans remains the most popular TV and radio celebrity, ahead of 500 WORDS judge Richard Hammond, and Simon Cowell. Hammond’s fellow Top Gear presenters James May and Jeremy Clarkson also popped up in stories, while the queen of The Great British Bake Off, Mary Berry, was the favourite female. However, Cinderella still remains the top leading lady overall.
In music, One Direction remains the band of the moment, while Harry Styles’ popularity continues to grow. Conversely Tulisa and Adele have seen their influence wane, with Katy Perry now top of the popstrels. Lyrics also cropped up in a number of tales, most notably Ylvis’s ‘What Does the Fox Say?’
Football remains popular as ever and the research shows that only four out of the top ten footballers are from the UK. Manchester United’s troubled season has seen Wayne Rooney replaced as the number one football star by Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid icon Cristiano Ronaldo. Liverpool star Luis Suarez has grown in popularity by 60% in this year’s stories, making him the fifth most popular footballer – the fact that he was named ‘Footballer of the Year’ just after the competition shows children were already in tune with how well he is doing this year!
Long, long words
While some parents and teachers may despair at the use of slang and ‘txtspeak’ in the playground, and a smattering of acronyms like OMG, BFF, and LOL do appear, other phrases like reem, wel jel, and totes just don’t tot up! Indeed these stories demonstrate that our children have a genuine love for, and are fascinated by, the complexities of the English language. There are numerous instances of children using unusual words and phrases, such as blatherskite, tintinnabulation, and collywobbles, while an impressive number of entries show that children understand words that a significant percentage of the adult population would struggle to know or define, including contumelious and furfuraceous!
Our storywriters continue to compete to use the longest words, and this year’s winner is a record-breaking 45-letter whopper, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust). They also embrace specialized vocabulary, from the worlds of science (epidemiologist, ichthyologist), palaeontology (cryolophosaurus, plesiosaurus), medicine (ergophobia, defibrillator, asphyxiation), and more.
To be or not to be?
It’s very much a question of to be rather than not to be, with over 2.3 million uses of this verb (while Shakespeare himself pops up 162 times in his anniversary year). Mum is still THE word of 500 WORDS, topping the list of nouns for a second year running, but it is better news for Dad who has moved into the top ten for the first time. Remarkably, Oxford University Press’s new research of studying word clusters has revealed that door is one of the scariest words in a child’s vocabulary and imagination. Reassuringly, friend and school reflect their key preoccupations.
The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year will be released towards the end of 2014, following on from 2013’s Word of the Year, selfie.