2023 Children’s Word of the Year Reflects Tough Times

Word reveals issue at top of mind for Australian students.
Jan 30, 2024
Children seeing their families struggle is reflected in their writing.

Australian students witnessing the impact of the current cost-of-living crisis have made ‘cost’ the Oxford Australian 2023 Children’s Word of the Year (CWOTY).

Using data collected through the online program Writing Legends, Oxford University Press analysed over 32,800 children’s stories and over 3.3 million words written by primary and secondary school students across the country.

Concepts such as inflation and affordability are showing up students’ writing across many contexts, particularly among those in middle primary levels, with related words like ‘dollar(s)’, ‘money’, ‘bills’ and ‘price(s)’ being used frequently. ‘Cost’ alone appeared 33.57% more frequently in 2023 compared to 2020-2022.

Dr Damon Thomas, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Queensland, said that this increase is likely linked to the severe pressures on families brought on by rising interest rates, rent, utility prices and other general costs.

“With many families experiencing added financial stress in 2023 and into 2024, it makes perfect sense that children would be more aware of issues related to affordability, and that navigating these stresses would be reflected in the stories they write. Increased prices of basic necessities, such as accommodation and groceries, have affected what and how much we consume, forcing a lot of parents and carers to consider lower cost or even free options for back-to-school and non-essential items and activities. The findings suggest increased cost of living affects the whole family.”

Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2023 ‘cozzie livs’, which is a colloquial abbreviation on the phrase ‘cost of living’, further emphasises the reality that this financial crisis is something currently preoccupying the nation’s psyche.

Other words shortlisted for Oxford Australian 2023 CWOTY included: ‘leadership’, ‘fitness’, ‘teamwork’, ‘health’ and ‘pollution’.

Lee Walker, Director of Publishing at Oxford University Press, said, “Students continue to show an eagerness to have a voice and share their opinions, and while there was a strong focus on environment, health and wellbeing in their writing, financial security was at the heart of this year’s data. In addition to sharing their concerns about the economic climate, students also wrote about skills and qualities, such as leadership and teamwork, that are important for future employment and success.”

The words collected as part of Australian CWOTY have been added to the Oxford Australian Children’s language Corpus - a collection of texts which records the development of children’s linguistics over time and informs Oxford University Press’ research and assessment of children’s language trends.

Image by ashanjaya