Students’ word of the year is ‘power’

After another disrupted school year during the COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s not surprising that Australian students have used their imaginations to reclaim control of their lives through their writing.

As a result ‘power’ has been made the Oxford Australian Children’s Word of the Year 2021 – after ‘virus’ and ‘bravery’ in the previous two studies – based on data from Oxford University Press in partnership with Writing Legends, the largest story-writing platform in Australia.

Oxford Children’s Language Australia and children’s language experts, including Flinders University special education expert Anne Bayetto, analysed more than 76,000 short stories and over 9 million words written by Australian students aged seven to 13 years old.

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Shortlisted words included ‘love’, ‘kindness’, ‘choice’, ‘dragon’, ‘imagine’, ‘happiness’, ‘humanity’ ‘power’ and ‘environment’. The usage of the word ‘power’ had increased by 61.8 per cent compared to 2020.

“We witnessed a significant change of mindset among students this year, especially when compared to last year, as the usage of the word happiness increased by 280%,” says Ms Bayetto.

“Overall there is a distinctly more positive tone within the writing, which is a stark contrast to last year’s sentiment which saw ‘bored’ and ‘boring’ in the top 100 adjectives.

“This illustrates the surprising resilience our students’ have demonstrated this year, despite another year of continued restrictions and distance learning.”

The use of power also indicates a desire from students to exercise their freedom of choice after a long period of lockdown restrictions, says Lee Walker, Director of Publishing, Editorial and Design at OUP ANZ and is also President of the Australian Publishers Association.

“It may also suggest a feeling of disenfranchisement and lack of control on important issues such as climate change.”

This year’s study found a strong trend towards fantasy themes, such as superpowers and flying. Students wrote about electrical power, the power of nature, and political or social power, reflecting awareness of global issues. In fiction and non-fiction stories, students pondered what it means to have and use power in an unequal world.

Other themes that emerged within the large body of writing included a strong feeling of positivity, an appreciation of connection and a degree of introspection following a year of upheaval.

Many of the more complex popular verbs used within the students’ writing described thought processes and reflection, such as ‘decide’, ‘believe’, ‘realise’, ‘wonder’, ‘forget’, and ‘remember’.

This indicates a level of introspection and reflection perhaps brought about by having less distractions due to lockdowns or by another year of disruption and unfamiliarity.


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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work Research