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‘Lockdown’ is the South African word of the year. It battled alongside fellow pandemic-related word ‘COVID-19’ and one of the few positive words of the year, ‘Jerusalema’ to come out tops. The three words had been officially shortlisted as candidates for SA Word of the Year 2020.

Lockdown was ultimately declared the winner on Friday. The South African Word of the Year is a word, term or expression which reflects the passing year in language – capturing the philosophy, mood or preoccupations of this particular year. With South Africa experiencing one of the strictest Lockdowns in the world, it’s no surprise it came out as the top word to capture the SA mood for the year!

The words were shortlisted by the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) in association with media research company, Focal Points,

“We can all attest to the rampage caused by the Coronavirus. It is all that we have talked about as we continue to navigate through its unforgiving rage. Hence, in choosing this year’s SA Word of the Year we have had to take the process a step further to broaden the criteria and also consider the cultural significance and influence the word has had amongst South Africans” said PanSALB Acting Chief Executive,  Willie Manana, in a statement.


“The lockdown has affected various parts of our lives and continues to do so. How we conduct business, our social interactions and cultural practices,” he added.

Through Focal Points, keywords were tracked for the period October 2019 to September 2020.

This media data was analysed to determine the prominence of the keywords within the media and to identify the frequency that they were used incredible print, broadcast and online media.

The usage of the words on social media, in everyday interactions and their cultural significance were also considered for inclusion in the shortlist.

With the declaration of the National State of Disaster on 15 March 2020, PanSALB said the word ‘lockdown’ suddenly became a topical issue and part of everyday vocabulary as the country went on Level 5 lockdown on 27 March 2020.

“Scores of people queued outside bottle stores and supermarkets stocking up on groceries in preparation of what was to become one of the strictest lockdowns in the world,” read the statement.

In true Mzansi style, South Africans soon found creative ways to entertain themselves amidst the pandemic to adjust to the ‘new normal’.

Many well-known DJs and music channels took to hosting virtual ‘lockdown parties’, friends and family connecting virtually via digital platforms such as Zoom.

“There is no argument that the lockdown has changed the way we live and has opened up a whole new world that has made it possible for us to work in the comfort of our own homes. Reaching just under half a million (486 224) mentions on print, broadcast, online and further mentions on social media and in everyday conversations – all accumulated in just over six months, we dare say the word/term ‘lockdown’ is a worthy winner,” said PanSALB.  – SAnews.gov.za