Heatwave, cost of living and queue—summer 2022 in words
From booster to Platty Joobs, we’ve explored the first half of 2022 in words. The second half of the year was marked by a series of disasters—natural and economic—and our experts have taken a look at the words that sum up this turbulent time.
The extreme weather of July 2022 led to a surge in use of the word heatwave. In Portugal, temperatures reached 47°C in mid-July, while usage of the word spiked in British English sources as the UK experienced record temperatures of up to 40°C.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) first quotation of heatwave is from 1842. When it was first used, it normally referred to a wave of hot weather passing from one place to another. Now, we use it to describe a period of abnormally hot weather.
In July 2022, the word was almost 4.5 times more frequent in UK sources than the previous month.
The rest of the world experienced extreme weather events too, with catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, and wildfires and droughts around the world. These events were seen as a stark reminder of the impact of climate change and the unpredictability it is causing in global weather systems.
Our term for August 2022 is cost of living.
The term is first recorded in the OED in 1796 and defined as “the general cost of goods and services viewed as necessary to maintain an average or minimal standard of living (such as food, housing, transport, etc.)” with a specific economics clause referring to “the average cost of such goods and services as measured by a representative price index.”
Frequency of the term gradually rose throughout 2022, with its usage increasing more than four-fold between December 2021 and August 2022, and levels staying high for the remainder of the year.
This increase was down to the economic situation that much of the world found itself in, with many people struggling with the cost of fuel and the price of basic necessities rising. Headlines included: “Fun is out as cost of living soars” (Courier Mail, 1 Aug 2022) and “Cost of living: How to cope with the rise in prices” (Independent, 31 Aug 2022).
That this situation was playing out around the world is reflected in the term’s usage too, which was geographically widespread and not restricted to any particular country or region.
A number of other terms related to the cost-of-living crisis saw increases in usage throughout the year, including energy crisis, fuel poverty, fuel crisis, permacrisis, and warm bank.
After the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, it was announced that Her Majesty’s coffin would lie in state for five days to allow mourners to pay respects to the late monarch.
This initiated the longest queue—our word for September—in British history, as more than 250,000 people waited patiently to make their way to Westminster Hall.
The queue caught the attention of the British and international media, with a live feed from the Palace of Westminster tracking its length and #TheQueue trending on Twitter. The word queue was used around 3.5 times more frequently than the previous month and year.
As a word, queue is borrowed into English from Anglo-Norman and Middle French, and derives from the Latin word cauda, meaning a tail (of an animal). It was first recorded in English in the fifteenth century with reference to ribbons or bands of parchment bearing seals and attached to a letter.
The earliest quotations for the queue that we all know today—“a line or sequence of people, vehicles, etc., waiting their turn to proceed, or to be attended to”—are found in a French context. Thomas Carlyle provided our first clearly English citation, writing in 1837 “That talent… of spontaneously standing in queue, distinguishes… the French People.” Since then, however, this has become a distinctively British word for what users of North American English would call a line.
Many of the words seeing a significant increase in usage in September 2022 were references to the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Monarch and monarchy, coffin, mourning and mourner, coronation, respects, corgi, and queen, which was recently chosen as the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year 2022, were all in the top ten words in our corpus which were significantly more frequent in September than the months before. Lying-in-state and catafalque (a platform on which a coffin is placed) saw a significant increase in usage too.
The only item in the top ten words for September not to relate to the death of HM The Queen is mini-budget. More to come on this word shortly…