Word(s) of the year 2020

For the Collins Dictionary, the Word of the Year for 2020 is lockdown: “The restrictions placed on how we move about and interact with one another arguably had the most impact.”

Shortlisted for the honor are: coronavirus, BLM (Black Lives Matter), key worker, furlough, self-isolate, social distancing, MEGxit (the withdrawal of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from royal duties), Tiktoker, and mukbang (“a video or webcast in which the host eats a large quantity of food for the entertainment of viewers). Obviously, this list tilts toward British English.

On the American side of the Pond, Merriam-Webster.com chose pandemic, based on “a statistical analysis of words that are looked up in extremely high numbers in our online dictionary while also showing a significant year-over-year increase in traffic.”

Other top 2020 lookups are: coronavirus, defund, mamba (Kobe Bryant’s nickname was “Black Mamba”), kraken (the name for Seattle’s new hockey team), quarantine, antebellum (a trio of singers ditched “Lady Antebellum” for “Lady A”), schaudenfreude, asymptomatic, irregardless (not a newly accepted word by M-W, despite rumors to the contrary), icon (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), and malarkey (Joe Biden likes that word).

By the way, the M-W word of the year last year, 2019, was they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.

Oxford Languages couldn’t make up its mind. “As our Word of the Year process started and this data was opened up, it quickly became apparent that 2020 is not a year that could neatly be accommodated in one single ‘word of the year,’ so we have decided to report more expansively on the phenomenal breadth of language change and development over the year in our ‘Words of an Unprecedented Year’ report.”

You can get Oxford’s report here. It’s 38 pages long and includes: brushfire (in Australia), impeachment, acquittal, coronavirus, Covid-19, lockdown, social distancing, reopening, Black Lives Matter, cancel culture, BIPOC, mail-in, Belarusian, moonshot (for covid testing), superspreader, and net zero (carbon neutral) — along with many other words like unmute. The report is sort of a brief, nicely illustrated history of 2020 in the English language.

Since I speak Spanish, I’m always interested in the annual choice of Spain’s FundéuRAE (Spanish Royal Academy Foundation). This year it’s confinamiento (lockdown or stay-at-home order). “La crisis sanitaria derivada de la pandemia de la COVID-19 es, sin duda, la protagonista del 2020 y las medidas implementadas para frenarla han cambiado radicalmente nuestra forma de vivir y de hablar.” (The health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has, without a doubt, played the leading role in 2020, and the measures taken to stop it have radically changed our way of living and speaking.)

Other candidates are: coronavirus, infodemia (infodemic), resiliencia (resilience), COVID-19, teletrabajo (telecommuting), conspiranoia (conspiracy theory), tiktok, estatuafobia (rejection of statues), pandemia, santarios (health care workers), and vacuna (vaccine).

Beyond lexicography, Politifact chose its lie of the year: coronavirus downplay and denial. “Lies infected America in 2020. The very worst were not just damaging, but deadly.”

Time Magazine selected its person(s) of the year: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for “changing the American story, for showing that the forces of empathy are greater than the furies of division, for sharing a vision of healing in a grieving world.”

I see something of a pattern. A lot happened in 2020, but one thing touched us all and left behind a trail of pain and sorrow. This has been one of the worst years of my life, and I got out relatively unscathed. For others it has meant nothing but disaster after disaster. I’m desperately looking forward to 2021. Let’s hope it’s better for all of us.

P.S. I’m still making sourdough bread.

3 thoughts on “Word(s) of the year 2020

  1. Pingback: 2021 words of the year: few surprises | Sue Burke

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