Hundreds of new words are added to the dictionary each year, and it often takes months of consideration to decide which ones. But when the pandemic began, many words we’d never heard of suddenly became part of our day-to-day vocabulary – think words like “furlough”, “stay at home order”, and COVID-19 (which was only invented in February). With this, dictionaries raced to add new entries, and helped us to define our “new normal”. So, what are some of the words that got added last year? Let’s explore 10 new words you’ll need for 2021:  

1. Adulting 

DefinitionThe action of becoming or acting like an adult 

In December, the Oxford English Dictionary added the word “adulting.” It’s often used by young people when they talk about doing tasks that are essential to every-day life – like cooking meals, buying insurance, or paying taxes.  

How to use it: My roommates and I are adulting during lockdown. We clean the whole house every Saturday! 

2. Awe walk 

DefinitionTaking a walk outside and making an effort to look at the things around you 

“Awe walk” hasn’t been added to the Cambridge Dictionary yet – but they have noticed it’s been used quite a bit. The word “awe” means a feeling of respect. So when someone says they will take an awe walk, it means they’ll notice – and feel grateful for – all the small things around them. 

The word was actually coined by the authors of a recent psychological study, which found older people who took awe walks felt more positive and less stressed over time.  

How to use it: Today on our awe walk we noticed a tree we’d never seen before.  

3. Contactless 

Definition: not having to physically touch or interact with people 

“Contactless” delivery became a popular option for shoppers last year. People who choose contactless delivery get their groceries or food delivered to the doorsteps, but don’t have to go out to receive them. Merriam-Webster added the word to their dictionary in April, right at the beginning of the pandemic.  

How to use it: Our family started to shop at a new grocery store, because we wanted the option to have contactless delivery.  

4. Doomscrolling 

Definition: Reading the news on social media and expecting it to be bad – so much so that you become obsessed with looking at updates added “doomscrolling” last summer. And, we’ve all done it. Doomscrolling is when you become obsessed with staying up to date with bad news. It’s a combination of the noun “doom” and verb “scroll” – and was made popular by the journalist Karen Ho last year.  

How to use it: I was doomscrolling on Twitter today while reading about Covid-19 cases. I think it’s why I feel so anxious now.  


5. PPE

Definition: an abbreviation for personal protective equipment 

Many of us first heard the word “PPE” at the beginning of the pandemic, and the word was added by Merriam-Webster last April. PPE is the abbreviation of personal protective equipment. This is the clothing people wear to protect themselves from danger. Masks, gloves, face shields, and goggles are all examples of PPE. 

How to use it: Many healthcare professionals and essential workers still do not have access to PPE.  


6. Quarenteen

Definitionteenager during the COVID-19 pandemic  

Do you know a “quarenteen?” It’s another word that’s been observed by Cambridge Dictionary – but hasn’t been added quite yet. If it is added, quarenteen will be a homophone for the word “quarantine.” It’ll also be a compound noun of “quarantine” and “teenager.”  

How to use it: My sister is a quarenteen and spends a lot of time on TikTok. 


7. Thirsty 

DefinitionHaving a need for attention or approval  

We know what you’re thinking: doesn’t thirsty mean needing to drink? Well, Merriam-Webster added a new definition of the word last year. “Thirsty” means having a strong desire for attention – especially on social media. Thirsty is informal, and it’s mostly used by young people. 

How to use it: My brother is thirsty. He posts so many photos of our dog Jellybean on Instagram because he wants her to be a dog model.


8. Truthiness 

Definitionsomething that seems true but isn’t backed up by evidence 

The word “truthiness” became popular after American comedian Stephen Colbert talked about it on his show The Colbert Report back in 2005. It was meant to be a joke, but many dictionaries have now included the word – including Merriam-WebsterWith so much disinformation going around right now, we think it’s a great word for 2021.  

How to use it: In this class, you can’t speak truthiness and expect to get away with it.  


9. Unconscious bias 

Definitionunconscious prejudice against people of a certain race, gender, or group 

“Unconscious bias” is a negative term, which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary last year. Everyone has unconscious beliefs about other groups, and these beliefs can cause them to discriminate against others. There is also conscious bias. When people are consciously biased, their discrimination is intentional.   

How to use it: In 2021, I hope more workplaces will address their conscious and unconscious bias.


10. WFH

Definition:  An abbreviation for work (or working) from home  

The word “WFH” was added to Merriam-Webster last April – when well, many people were WFH! This is an important word to know if you become part of an English-speaking workplace this year.  

How to use it: My co-workers say they’re WFH on Slack everyday.


So, what’s your favorite new word for 2021? We recommend keeping up on all the new words added to dictionaries throughout the year –  it’s a great way to expand your vocab!  

For more English-learning resources, don’t forget to check out the tips & advice page on our blog. 

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