Everyday Christian: Why 'iso' should not be Word of The Year

The Australian slang for self-isolation – ‘iso’ – has been crowned 2020’s Word of the Year, announced by the Australian National Dictionary Centre.

I know, I also didn’t realise Australia had one such wordy centre. Turns out it’s based at Canberra’s Australian National University and it conducts research into Australian English. It also provides “Oxford University Press with editorial expertise for their Australian dictionaries.” You learn something every day. (Hope I spelled – spelt? – all of that correctly).

Anyway, according to ANDC’s Senior Researcher Mark Gwynn, ‘iso’ beat out hundreds of other COVID-related words to be hailed as the one that gained most prominence in 2020.

Only one term made the Word of the Year shortlist that was not related to the pandemic: ‘black summer’ (referring to Australia’s destructive 2019/2020 bushfire season).

“Our fondness for abbreviating words in Australia, and a natural human inclination to make the unknown and scary familiar, quickly saw the descriptive term ‘self-isolation’ shortened to iso in March,” Gwynn said.

“Not only is iso distinctively Australian in usage, it has also been linguistically productive by combining with other words to form compounds such as iso baking, iso bar, iso cut, and iso fashion.”

In fact, iso proved so malleable and trendy that Gwynn told The Guardian “linguists around the world” comment “that it is an Australian term”.

Way to go, Aussies! Kinda.

You see, while I’m usually as patriotic as the next Aussie bloke about Australian stuff spreading around the world, I must confess to feeling un-Australian about the iso victory.

I must confess to feeling un-Australian about the iso victory

The ANDC’s definition of iso is “self-isolation; the act of remaining apart from others as a way to limit the spread of an infectious disease, especially as a public health measure.”

I have no problem with that. I actually like how the definition stipulates iso is a measure taken to curtail the transmission of disease. The reason I’m not a fan of iso’s win, though, is because I’m not sure all of us remember that definition is what iso’s really all about.

Instead, with the need to distance ourselves from each other, iso became something of a lifestyle choice for many of us. So much so that I caught myself enjoying the iso life – forgetting that it’s an enforced detachment only brought in to help crush COVID-19.

I know plenty of people have not got into iso life, at all. The pain of loneliness or estrangement or separation have only been magnified by all of our social distancing. But when I saw that iso had won 2020 Word of the Year, it made me wince at how used to being apart from others I have been at times during this year.

At church on the weekend, I heard talk of the opposite of iso. At least, the opposite of being cut off from others without the vital reason of trying to protect each other from illness. Our church was looking at Colossians 3:12-17 and this passage overflows with the call to live out our lives together.

Sure, there might be times when we have to let the word of Christ dwell richly among us (verse 15) from a distance. But the passage’s encouragement to put on God’s love which binds all of Jesus’ followers together in perfect unity speaks a strong anti-iso message to me.

For anyone who is thinking “that’s easier said than done” – you’re right. Trying to actually live out what Colossians 3:12-17 states for our corporate, enmeshed faith is hard to do in practice. Still, I want to be an involved part of this shared, constructive way of life (“clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”) rather than just operate in iso.

Because if I kick on in isolation, whether there’s a pandemic or not, the wonderful way of combined existence I see outlined in Colossians 3:12-17 might just leave me be.

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2020 Word of the Year

Australian National Dictionary Centre

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