5 new words you shouldn’t miss in 2020

What do simples, chillax, and whatevs have in common? They’re all new words that were added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2019!

We know what you’re thinking. The English language already has a lot of words, so where do these new ones come from? Do we just invent them?

You’ll be pleased to know that we don’t just make them up! Some are words that people have started saying and writing much more often. Others are old words that have become more popular in recent times, because of a change in culture or a big event.

No matter the origin, every year hundreds of new words are added to the dictionary to reflect the evolution of the English language.

So, here are our top five words from 2019, with their meanings. Do you recognise any and can you spot why we’ve chosen them?

1. Climate Emergency

Let’s begin our list with The Oxford Dictionary Word of The Year – climate emergency.

Climate Emergency is defined as a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.

It surpassed any other type of emergency written about in 2019. In fact, the use of the word increased by over 10,000% by September 2019 in just one year.

2. Permaculture

Permaculture is an old word that’s recently become more popular. It is a portmanteau word, which means it combines two words to make a new one. In this case, it mixes permanence and agriculture and is based around the concept of sustainable farming and gardening.

3. Freegan

A freegan is also a portmanteau that combines the words free and vegan. Sometimes known as a ‘dumpster diver’, a freegan is a person who believes it is wrong to throw away food when millions of people around the world are hungry. For this reason, they only eat food they can get for free, which would usually have been thrown out or waste. Often freegans rely on food found in supermarket dumpsters.

4. Hothouse

Hothouse is a word that has recently taken on a new meaning. In the past, it exclusively referred to a greenhouse – a glass building designed to help plants grow more quickly. Today, hothouse also describes a place or situation that encourages the rapid development of ideas, emotions and knowledge. University campuses, schools, and social organisations make the perfect hothouse for fresh new ideas!

5. Hellacious

Have you ever been stuck in terrible traffic? How about an awful snowstorm? Perhaps the situation was hellacious?

Hellacious describes an awful experience and is often used to describe traffic, weather or even a period of time (e.g. a hellacious summer). It’s also commonly used in sport when discussing a hellacious punch or hit.

Why did we pick these words?

If you noticed that these words relate to some of the most pressing issues of today, including climate change and sustainability, well done! We chose them because they are likely to be even more important in 2020.

Make sure you make a note of these new words and try to use them yourself. To help you practise them, we’ve put together a mini quiz.

The 2019 new words quiz!

Climate emergency Permaculture Freegan Hothouse Hellacious

Use these words to fill the gaps in the sentences below. You may need to change the form of the word. If you get stuck, use the picture clues to help you, or go back and look at the descriptions above.

1. The government has declared a ___________________ and urgent action is required to save the planet.

Click here to reveal the answer.
Climate Emergency


2. The traffic inside the city is __________________ at rush hour.

Click here to reveal the answer.


3. A college is a _________________ for knowledge and ideas.

Click here to reveal the answer.


4. ___________ farms are designed to imitate nature and cause as little damage to the environment as possible.

Click here to reveal the answer.


5. A ________________ might look for food in supermarket bins.

Click here to reveal the answer.


Practice using these new words

Now you are almost ready to start using these five important new words in English. To challenge yourself further, write a short text using as many of the words as possible. Then post it as a comment in the box below.

Here’s an example to get you started.

Traffic within the city was hellacious due to unexpected diversions this week. Thousands of university students took to the streets to urge the government to take the climate emergency more seriously. This is just one of many issues the new generation has to face along with how to create a more sustainable planet.

As we know, the university is a hothouse for political activism. This happened in the same week local activists campaigned for more permaculture farms outside the city and the donation of food waste from local supermarkets. An idea that was obviously championed by the freegan community.

Good luck!

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and learners top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help people around the world to learn English.

9 thoughts

  1. This year summer is going to be hellacious .School is absolute hothouse for new ideas and for creative mind ..Today’s youth is under anxiety because “we will die of climate change and you will die of old age “,Climate emergency is required … Permaculture should be taken in concern because it’s effective and it can help us to save our motherland …A freegan person is actually a message to all of us who takes food for granted ……
    We can learn too much from them..,…

  2. This spring is definitely hellacious period for humanity. Not only have we climate emergence, but we also have a pandemic of coronavirus all around the globe! Fortunately, in a hothouses of medical research – Germany, Israel and other developed countries – the testing of vaccines have already started. But pandemic can crash down the permaculture of the world. A lot of people suffer from pandemic, especially freegans, who look for free means of food. Here comes food shortage, so there’s no more food left for them

  3. Can I suggest some words commonly used during this COVID-19 pandemic? They are commonly used in Nigeria.
    They are:
    Covidiots (n) Lay people, novices in most aspects of the pandemic
    Covidiocy (n) A state of being a lay man or a novice in things related COVID-19
    Covidiotic ( adj) Describes a covidiots
    Covicorrupt ( adj) Describes people, politicians enriching themselves through the pandemic from the proceeds tabled by the government or philanthropists
    Covidize (v): To overtly, covertly, mistakenly or deliberately infect others with the virus
    Coviddead ( n) People that died from the pandemic
    Covideath (n) state of dying from the pandemic

  4. Due to continues pollution in Delhi there has been a climatic emergency to control the pollution in the city .The climate in winter is being so hellacious that people could barely see anything.Schools and colleges being the hothouse in the city, there is still lack of knowledge for the people to reduce pollution. Freegans are suffering from health issues due to exposure of food in this pollution for a long time. I think its time to implement permaculture in the city to reduce pollution and to make it a green city.

    1. This year, summer is hellacious. In order to protect environment the country should declare a climate emergency and promote Permaculture. Awareness should be brought in schools and universities, which are hothouses for ideas. And freevegans also should take part in this program.

  5. This summer is hellacious. In order to protect environment in such harsh climatic conditions the government should announce a climate emergency and promote Permaculture. In order to make it a successful awareness should be brought in schools, universities, which are hothouses for ideas and also among freevegans

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