A Cluster of Cases: 2020 and its many Words of the Year

oxford word of the year 2020
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It needs no retelling how 2020 have been an unprecedented year in more ways than one. The prosperous start to the decade as it was projected to have been with the seemingly magic numbers ‘twenty twenty’ preparing us all for such times that would mark the dawn of an era or if not something so substantial, at least persist in being a decent enough one, an ordinary year. But the sheer frequency with which this year has surprised us all, not just you and me, but countries altogether and the world as a whole, it’s hardly anything more surprising that 2020 continues to wade in hitherto untouched waters. As the year that sure would remain etched in minds as long as they live, 2020 is almost about to end, at least as far as the turn of the calendars is concerned. With the last month of the year setting in and the world frantically hoping for a new script to emerge out of the coming year, it’s time to do yet again what we look forward to doing all year though. A roundup of all that has passed in the year about to bid goodbye is a routine we return to, as we examine our trade off in terms of the bad and the good. Even in other matters that which concerns fads and trends to emerge out of the passing year, we all are party to a certain sort of excitement.

So too the Oxford English Dictionary was. As one of the most trusted sources when it comes to lexicon and vocabulary and language, Oxford picks every time its Word of the Year. In its choosing, Oxford makes sure to pick a word that “reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.’ The selections of the past many years has indeed been in sync with its judgements. As words like selfie and toxic and climate emergency and sudoku have in the preceding time gained centerstage in the Oxford listing, going as well to be indeed lasting words in common global vocabulary, every year uptill now have unfailingly presented us with a term that had defined it in its twelve months. Come 2020 however and even the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary could not keep track with its record as it failed to come up with a singular word that would have currently gauged the many moods of the year that was meant to be.

Instead this time it is a volley of words that have found entry into the Oxford list, equivalent perhaps to the volley of issues that have characterised the whole of 2020. And no prizes for guessing that the many words of the year are invariably a stemming from the coronavirus pandemic that has defined the most of this year, if not its entirety. So while terms like coronavirus and COVID 19 definitely made the list as expected, so too did other such concepts related to the ongoing crisis. From covidiot and anti masker and anti vaxxer to community transmission and pandemic and PPE and lockdown that concerns directly the outbreak to such terms like social distancing and anthropause and flatten the curve, doomscrolling and Blursday and superspreader, infodemic and zoombombing and workation, all have gained new found milieu in 2020. Scientific terms undoubtedly have penetrated social vocabulary in a way never before witnessed and so have such terms that concerns the workspace that have been translated into distant zones where utterings of unmute and remote rules large in interpretations that are diversive from the traditional notions of them. Even older terms have seen reemergence with new connotations as in BC that which now refers to Before Coronavirus!

But while the COVID 19 pandemic has been the greatest definer of the year, 2020 still have had more than its fair share of other happenings that guaranteed another onslaught of related words into the public domain. Deserving particular mention is the phrase Black Lives Matter, an emergence from the George Floyd killing that saw protests and voices being raised across different areas of the world. Also seeing significant usage is wokeness that which refers to the fact or quality of being alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice. Take a knee too has emerged as another related phrase that stems of the 2020 May incident and implies going down on one knee as a peaceful means of protesting against racism. Moving further in the year and the November Presidential elections in the U.S. threw up another slew of terms that yielded potential enough to be included in the Oxford list. Mail in is the most prominent one of the lot whereas earlier time in the year saw impeachment also another highly used word. Even the use of the word ‘unprecedented’ has hit almost unprecedented levels, reminding us again and again just how shocker of a year 2020 has turned out to be.

Flummoxed as the world has been therefore with the twin twenties ruling large, the Oxford English Dictionary too has been rendered ‘speechless’ ironically with such a barrage of words that have come to define the present year. In throwing itself open to such wide interpretations that embody the spirit of 2020 in as stark a way as they can, the 47 2020 words of the year will go down in history as at least an expansion of public vocabulary, rooted in such terms that won’t die down for long in the tremendous hullabaloo they have managed to create. For the most uncertain year yet, it seems as if even the dictionary is struggling to adjust enough to its ‘antics’. It sure is what a time to be alive!


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