This year has been unprecedented by all means. The pandemic, economic volatility, and political turmoil – we have seen it all this year. And like all us humans, the English language has also had to adapt a great deal to new world.
That is why Oxford Languages, the publisher of the Oxford Dictionary, could not just accommodate all these changes in a single ‘Word of the Year.’ Instead, it has become more expansive and picked up quite a few words that have been trending every month in this year. Generally, however, the Word of the Year is any word or expression that has “attracted a great deal of interest over the last 12 months.”
“I’ve never witnessed a year in language like the one we’ve just had,” said Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl. “The team at Oxford were identifying hundreds of significant new words and usages as the year unfolded, dozens of which would have been a slam dunk for word of the year at any other time. It’s both unprecedented and a little ironic – in a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been filled with new words unlike any other.”
January saw Australia witnessing one of the worst bushfire season, and hence the word ‘bushfire’ made it to the list. The other word that made the cut was ‘impeachment,’ as POTUS Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings were in full swing this month.
For February, the word was ‘acquittal,’ as Trump’s impeachment trial came to an end.
March, April, and May brought about words related to the coronavirus pandemic, which included ‘coronavirus,’ ‘Covid-19,’ ‘lockdown,’ ‘social distancing,’ and ‘reopening.’
‘Black Lives Matter’ trended in June, following the protests against the killing of black American, George Floyd in police custody. July saw the use of ‘BIPOC’, which is an abbreviation for black, indigenous, and other people of colour, and ‘Cancel Culture,’ a term signifying a “culture of boycotting and withdrawing support from public figures whose words and actions are considered socially unacceptable.”
August saw the increase in the use of ‘Mail-In,’ in correlation with the US election using the postal service as a means to cast votes in the 2020 Presidential election. Also, ‘Belarusian’ trended following the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.
‘Moonshot’ trended in September as the name of an initiative by the government of the United Kingdom for mass Covid testing. The word generally refers to an extremely ambitious project or mission undertaken to achieve a monumental goal and was originally used in 1949, when the idea of sending a spacecraft to the moon was starting to be seriously considered.
A second wave of the coronavirus infections caused the word ‘superspreader’ to trend in October. ‘Net Zero’ was the other word that trended in this month following the historic pledge made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September, that China will be carbon neutral by 2060.
This is the first time that Oxford has picked up so many words and expressions for a particular year. For instance, the Word of the Year for 2019 was ‘Climate Emergency,’ for 2018 was ‘Toxic,’ and for 2017 was ‘Youthquake.’
But this year has been a different one and certainly warrants all these wide-ranging words to be titled ‘Word of the Year’!