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Australia’s ‘word of the decade’ revealed

Erin Lyons, February 4, 2021 7:00PM NCA NewsWire

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Former US President Donald Trump talks about fake news at a media conference while he was still President. media_cameraFormer US President Donald Trump talks about fake news at a media conference while he was still President.


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A phrase that was widely used in 2016 when Donald Trump first became US President has been crowned the “word of the decade”.

“Fake news” outperformed other popular phrases that have cemented* their place in the English language over the past 10 years, including “Karen”, which was the people’s choice winner last year.

After an interesting year for new words, a team of Macquarie University researchers compiled a list of the winners of “word of the year” over the past decade and asked Australians to vote for the one that resonated* with them the most.

“Fake news” was the committee’s choice in 2016 and beat the likes of “mansplain*” and “first world problems”.

Even though many may associate “fake news” with Mr Trump’s US presidential campaign, it was the four years that followed Mr Trump’s election in 2016 that truly solidified* its popularity.

“It became part of our lives so quickly and was so overwhelming that school courses had to be developed to teach children strategies for detecting fake news,” study authors said.

According to the university’s dictionary, the word has gained a second meaning and is also used to “refer to information that is viewed as being opposed or detrimental* to someone’s own position – whether it is factual or not”.

“Words are powerful and the ease with which we see this term being thrown around to instantly rob something of its credibility* can be very damaging,” the authors said.

“It looks like it’s a term that’s here to stay.”

media_cameraDemonstrators staging a Presidents Day protest against President Donald Trump near Trump Tower on February 20, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois, US, holding a placard that reads “I wish this was fake news”. Picture: Getty Images

Last year, as the coronavirus crisis took hold, “Karens” were given a bad name.

“Karen” became a widespread meme referring to a specific type of middle-class white woman who exhibits behaviours that stem from privilege – like someone who belittles* retail staff because they don’t want to wear a mask during a pandemic.

Language experts in the US chose “they” as their word of the decade in 2020 in recognition of the growing use of third-person plural pronouns.

People who are transgender or non-binary* may choose to use pronouns such as “they, them or theirs”.

Burkinis go surfing media_cameraDima Fasi about to go surfing in a Speedo Burkini at Bondi Beach, NSW in 2017. Burkini was the word of the year in 2017. Picture: John Appleyard


Macquarie University researchers compiled this list of the winners of “word of the year” over the past decade and asked Australians to vote for the one that resonated with them the most.

  • 2011: Burkini (committee’s choice), fracking (people’s choice)
  • 2012: Phantom vibration syndrome (committee’s choice), First World Problem (people’s choice)
  • 2013: Infovore (committee’s choice), onesie (people’s choice)
  • 2014: Mansplain (committee’s choice), share plate (people’s choice)
  • 2015: Captain’s call (committee’s choice and people’s choice)
  • 2016: Fake news (committee’s choice), halal snack pack (people’s choice)
  • 2017: Milkshake duck (committee’s choice), framily (people’s choice)
  • 2018: Me Too (committee’s choice), single-use (people’s choice)
  • 2019: Cancel culture (committee’s choice), robodebt (people’s choice)
  • 2020: Doomscrolling (committee’s choice), Karen (people’s choice)


  • cemented: there to stay
  • resonated: evoked images, memories and emotions
  • mansplain: explaining something (especially to a woman) in a patronising way
  • solidified: firmly holding its place
  • detrimental: does harm
  • credibility: whether something is believable
  • belittles: dismiss as unimportant
  • non-binary: not relating to just one of two things (such as male or female gender)


Kids urged to get real on fake news

‘Iso’ declared Australia’s word of the year

Cheeseslaw officially a word after almost 100 years

‘Canberra bubble’ 2018 word of the year


  1. What is this story about?
  2. Which US President made the phrase fake news popular?
  3. How is ‘they’ now being used as a pronoun?
  4. What does it mean to mansplain?
  5. What were the two words of the year on the list for 2020?


1. Use the Words
Plan and write a story that includes as many of the ‘word of the year’ winners as you can. Can you use them all?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
The words of the year chosen by the committee each year are different from the people’s choice words. Write a paragraph explaining why you think that each group always chooses different words.

Time: allow at least 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking

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: Which word would you have voted for?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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