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The Top 10 Words in Wales Revealed

Plastic, the ocean, Emmeline Pankhurst, Donald Trump, Brexit, Korea, Grenfell Tower, unicorns, slime and computer gameFortnite are just some of the people and subjects that influence British children’s creativity and use of language, says a report published today by Oxford University Press (OUP).

Following OUP’s analysis of the 134,790 short stories submitted to the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show’s 500 Words competition, British children have once again shown themselves to be fabulously inventive, funny and socially astute.

Plastic is the Oxford Children’s ‘Word of the Year’ because of its significant increase in use in 500 Words, the awareness and passion children demonstrated for environmental issues, and the creative solutions to combat them that they invented in their stories. This demonstrated the huge impact David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II had on the nation’s children.

The Top 10 words which are used more in the stories of Wales than in any other are:

  • trespasser
  • welsh
  • wales
  • tardis
  • cyberman
  • doodle
  • galaxy
  • anaconda
  • tiger
  • bourbon

Children use plastic in their stories in an emotive way to convey their understanding of the damage pollution is causing to marine life, drawing on their creativity and imagination to deliver powerful descriptive imagery in stories, with titles such asThe Plastic Shore, The Mermaid’s Plastic Missionand The Evil Mr Plastic. For example:

“Sea animals are dying because of you and your plastic! Nets get caught around dolphins’ necks. Plastic used for bottles gets tangled around sea turtle shells…” (Save The Planet,boy aged 7).

Children are also taking matters into their own hands to come up with inventive solutions to the plastic problem with, for instance: a ‘Reverse-o-matic Pollutinator Ray Gun’ for “zonking all the polluting machines around the world”(The Bookworm, boy aged 13); the ‘Fantastic-sewage-sooperpooper-suckerupper’ to “stop sewage going into the sea so people could swim in it without it being horrible”(Professor Igotit and the Fantastic-sewage-sooperpooper-suckerupper, boy aged 5); and ‘The three plastic-eteers’, “a team fighting against plastic rubbish” (The Three Plastic-eteers, girl aged 8).

Some stories are even told from the point of view of the plastic containers: “Reaching the surface I found it filled with my kind. Empty bottles bobbed on the surface like rubber ducks, bags of different sizes and colours floating like jelly fish, killing and collecting helpless sea life. A blanket of plastic suffocating the ocean. None of us belong here.”(Misplaced, girl aged 8).

Correspondingly, use of the terms recycleand recyclingeach have also increased by more than 100%, as have packaging, pollution, plastic bottle, plastic bag, and plastic waste. Biodegradable andpermeable entered the stories for the first time and the wordocean, and many of its real or imagined inhabitants (whale, dolphin, turtle, shark, penguin, octopus, and of course, mermaid) also saw marked rises.The phraselitter pickingappears for the very first time, with phrases such as: “After watching recent events on the news about plastic ruining the oceans, she had organised a beach litter picking event with her friends.” (Mermaid SOS!girl aged 11).

Vineeta Gupta, Head of Children’s Dictionaries at Oxford University Press, said:

Language empowers children, giving them a voice to express their passions and opinions, which they have put to powerful effect in this year’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show’s 500 Words competition. Children have shown they are acutely aware of the impact plastic has on our environment and how it will affect their own future. They have used their stories to devise imaginative ways to combat this issue and bring about change in their world.”

Chris Evans says:

“Plastic is a fantastic Word of the Year! It really shows just how incredibly engaged with and how much the young people in Britain today care about the world around them. The OUP’s 500 Words analysis is always fascinating and so insightful about the creative ways children use language.”

Last year, thousands of children used language in clever, witty, and subversive ways related to the US President,making Trumpthe 2017Children’s Word of the Year. Fascination with ‘The Donald’ shows no sign of abating, and he takes the top spot for famous people mentioned for the second year in succession. Santa and Cinderella remain the most used fictional characters as in all other years of the competition. Once again, vocabulary associated with Donald Trump (president, White House, fake news, and wig) featured strongly:  “My name is Walter Wig and I sit on Donald Trump’s head.”(Donald Trumps Wig, girl aged 9). There were also many inventive creations inspired by ‘trump’, such asSnozzletrump, Pinetrump and Snuffletrump.

The top 10 names of famous people used in stories include as usual some sports and historical names. Donald Trump is number one, followed by Ronaldo, Messi, Hitler, David Walliams (his first ever Top 10 appearance), Neymar, Usain Bolt, Queen Elizabeth, Cleopatra, and Queen Victoria. Favourite singers (in order of popularity in stories) are Little Mix, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Olly Murs, and Taylor Swift, with the latter’s tune Shake it off the most mentioned song.