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Words and Actions

Jan 15, 2021

Yes, we are glad to see the back of 2020. But so much happened over those 12 months that we think it warrants a special New Year’s episode. We invited four guests to come with us on a tour of the year, from Brexit Day to university strikes, Black Lives Matter and the US elections. Oh, and we also mention that pandemic that just went and upended everyone’s lives.

Please visit our blog, for information about our guests, further links and resources. In this episode we start our review of 2020 by talking about the language use around Brexit. Anyone interested in that topic can find relevant publications listed in Veronika’s bibliography-in-progress on Brexit and language, which is available at Sten Hansson’s publications on the topic are:

Hansson, S. (2019). Brexit and blame avoidance: Officeholders’ discursive strategies of self-preservation. In Koller, V., Kopf, S., & Miglbauer, M. (eds) Discourses of Brexit. London: Routledge, pp. 191-207. (see also this blog post:

Hansson, S., & Kröger, S. (2020). How a lack of truthfulness can undermine democratic representation: the case of post-referendum Brexit discourses. British Journal of Politics and International Relations.

Veronika at one point mentions prison metaphors in the Brexit debate (e.g. ‘free from the shackles of the EU’), which she has written about here:

Koller, V. (2020). Analysing metaphor in discourse. In Hart, C. (ed.) Researching Discourse: A guide for students. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 77-96. 

Our subjective look back on 2020 continues with the university strikes in Britain early that year. We talk to Liz Morrish, who was a speaker at some of the events around the industrial action. Her critical studies of contemporary universities, in the UK and elsewhere, are collected in her blog Academic Irregularities ( and have also resulted in a book she wrote with fellow linguist Helen Sauntson: 

Morrish, L., & Sauntson, H. (2019). Academic Irregularities: Language and neoliberalism in higher education. Abingdon: Routledge. 

Liz mentions various frameworks for evaluating research, teaching and knowledge exchange at British universities, known respectively as REF, TEF and KEF. 

Inevitably, our review of 2020 takes us to March and the arrival of Covid-19 in Europe. We look at the pandemic through the metaphor lens (pun very much intended) and talk to Paula Pérez Sobrino, one of the founders of the #ReframeCovid initiative. The collection of alternatives to the war metaphor for Covid-19 is available to view and download here: – the link also leads to a form where listeners/readers can submit further examples. A group of scholars involved with the initiative have started to write about some aspects of metaphors for Covid-19 and about the initiative itself:

Olza, I., Koller, V., Ibarretxe-Antuñano, I., Pérez Sobrino, P., & Semino, E. (forthcoming). The #ReframeCovid initiative: From Twitter to society via metaphor. Metaphor and the Social World. (see also this roundtable discussion:  

Pérez Sobrino, P., Semino, E., Ibarretxe-Antuñano, I., Koller, V., & Olza, I. (forthcoming). Acting like a hedgehog in times of pandemic: Metaphoric creativity in the #ReframeCovid collection. Metaphor and Symbol.

Semino, E. (2021). “Not soldiers but fire-fighters”: Metaphors and Covid-19. Health Communication, 36(1), 50-58. (see also this blog post:

2020 was an eventful year and we could not fit all important events into the episode. In the summer, the killing of George Floyd by police in the US led to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and protests against racism and racist violence around the world. In Britain, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol, inspiring the poem Hollow by Bristol City Poet Vanessa Kisuule: 
Detractors of the BLM movement sometimes counter that ‘All lives matter’, but this misunderstands the pragmatic meaning of the original statement: ‘Black lives matter’ is not an answer to the question ’Whose lives matter?’ but to the question ‘Do black lives matter?’. 

In the final interview, we reflect on the US elections and talk to Ulrike Schneider, co-editor of a book on the language of Donald Trump (which should win a prize for best book cover of the year!):

Schneider, U., & Eitelmann, M. (eds) (2020). Linguistic Inquiries into Donald Trump’s Language: From 'fake news' to 'tremendous success'. London: Bloomsbury. 

In our conversation, we touch on Trump’s use of Twitter; after the storming of the Capitol on 6 January 2021, Twitter suspended the President’s account indefinitely on grounds of incitement to violence. 

This brings Words & Action’s special New Year’s episode to a close, but we hope you will stay with us over the course of the year!