GLASGOW – ‘Single-use’, a term that describes items whose unchecked proliferation are blamed for damaging the environment and affecting the food chain, has been named Collins Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2018.
Single-use refers to products – often plastic – that are ‘made to be used once only’ before disposal. Images of plastic adrift in the most distant oceans, such as straws, bottles, and bags have led to a global campaign to reduce their use.
The word has seen a four-fold increase since 2013. A quick search on the Solid Waste & Recycling website found 78 instances of the term extending back to 2003, so we are definitely ahead of trend (see image).
Single first appears in the 14th-century, primarily used to describe an unmarried person, deriving from the Old French ‘sengle’, meaning alone or unadorned. This itself come from the more forgiving Latin ‘singulus’; one, individual or separate. It began to appear as a prefix in the late 14-century, forming the room of many words such as single-handed and later on, single-use.
Use is somewhat older, first noted in the 1200s, and also deriving from Old French ‘user’ meaning to employ, make use of, or consume. Naturally, single and use came together to describe disposable items, made to be used one time and one time only.