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‘Iso’ declared Australia’s word of the year

Donna Coutts, November 17, 2020 7:00PM Kids News

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A woman walks past a sign urging people to stay home in Melbourne on August 14, 2020 as the city battles an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Picture: AFP media_cameraA woman walks past a sign urging people to stay home in Melbourne on August 14, 2020 as the city battles an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Picture: AFP


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Australia’s word of the year is ‘iso’.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre chose the word, which is Australian slang for self-isolation.

Each year, the ANDC, based at The Australian National University in Canberra, ACT, chooses a word or expression that has “gained prominence in the Australian social landscape”, meaning it has become important or famous among people in Australia.

In a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, the shortlist of words was similarly dominated by the pandemic. ‘Bubble’ and ‘COVID-normal’ were also on the list.

The only non-pandemic-related short-listed* word or expression was ‘Black Summer’, which refers to the 2019-2020 summer bushfires.

media_cameraFirefighters struggling against strong wind and flying embers in an effort to secure nearby houses from bushfires near the town of Nowra, NSW on December 31, 2019. Picture: AFP

ANDC senior researcher Mark Gwynn said iso stood out as a characteristically* Aussie abbreviation.

“Our fondness for abbreviating words in Australia, and a natural human inclination* to make the unknown and scary familiar, quickly saw the descriptive term ‘self-isolation’ shortened to iso in March this year,” Mr Gwynn said.

“Not only is iso distinctively Australian in usage, it has also been linguistically* productive by combining with other words to form compounds such as iso baking, iso bar, iso cut, and iso fashion.

“Many of us found humour in language use as a way to cope with our changed working and social circumstances, so why not talk about a bad self-inflicted* haircut as an iso cut, or the extra weight gained due to lack of exercise as iso kilos,” Mr Gwynn said.

TAS_MER_NEWS_ISOBEARS_23JUN20 media_cameraGrace Holiday and Chloe Moore made what they call ‘iso bears’ to give to people with a disability or illness who isolated for long periods during 2020 to avoid contracting COVID-19. Picture: Richard Jupe


  • iso: self-isolation; the act of remaining apart from others as a way to limit the spread of an infectious disease, especially as a public health measure.
  • Black Summer: the summer of 2019/2020, during which catastrophic* bushfires occurred in southeastern Australia.
  • bubble: a district, region, or a group of people viewed as a closed system, isolating from other districts, regions, or groups as a public health measure to limit the spread of COVID-19. ‘Bubble’ was also found in compounds such as ‘travel bubble’, ‘germ bubble’ and ‘sporting bubble’.
  • covid-normal: a state of adapting to an acceptable level of COVID-19 in the community.
  • driveway: used in compounds referring to individual Anzac Day vigils* in 2020, such as ‘driveway Anzac service’, ‘driveway Dawn Service’.
Daily News media_cameraWilliam Miller and Easton Benson hold candles as they reflect on Anzac Day in the driveway of their grandmother’s house at Banora Point, NSW on April 25, 2020. Picture: Scott Powick


  • lockdown: the imposition* of stringent* restrictions on travel, social interaction, and access to public spaces. Lockdown was declared the word of the year for 2020 by the UK’s Collins Dictionary
  • Covid: the shortened word for COVID-19, the official name of the disease caused by the coronavirus Sars CoV-2. By July, the word Covid was the most searched for and most mentioned word in media and social media in the 21st century, according to the Global Language Monitor.


  • short-listed: a list of finalists in a competition
  • characteristically: in a way that is typical of a particular person, place or thing
  • inclination: a natural tendency or urge to do something
  • linguistically: in a way that relates to language
  • self-inflicted: inflicted (done) to yourself
  • catastrophic: causing great damage
  • vigils: a peaceful demonstration in support of something
  • imposition: putting in place
  • stringent: strict


‘Canberra bubble’ the 2018 word of the year

‘Cheeseslaw’ officially a word after 100 years

Aussie lingo a living, thriving language

Solving the mystery of convicts’ secret language


  1. What is iso short for?
  2. Why was it named word of the year?
  3. Why are bushfires mentioned in this story?
  4. What are William and Easton doing?
  5. What is Covid short for?


1. Aussie Slang
Work with a partner and make a list of all the Australian slang words you can think of. In the other column, write the meaning of the word.

Use a table like this to record your answers. media_cameraUse a table like this to record your answers.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social

2. Extension
What words or expressions did you find became prominent during the coronavirus pandemic this year? Remote learning may be one you may or may not want to forget!

Do you think these words will stick around or be forgotten once we have gotten through this pandemic?

Share your responses with a partner.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social

I Spy Nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article?

Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick 3 nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What is your favourite popular word of 2020?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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