In March, we took a look at the words we thought would define 2020. Little were we to know what was to come. No one could have predicted the way the COVID-19 pandemic would shape this year, throwing all the societal norms out the window, for nations in every corner of the globe.
Usually in times of great change, languages shift and mutate to cope with the need to define and explain new concepts.
So let’s take a look at how 2020 has introduced a series of bizarre new words, phrases and concepts into our daily lives: from social bubbles to lockdown and more.
Oxford Languages’ Words of an Unprecedented Year
The Oxford English Dictionary has become synonymous for their Word of the Year, their way of contextualising the events which shape a year.
This year, they felt that one word simply wouldn’t do to summarise such a seismic event as the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Their lexicographers, therefore, decided that, in 2020, they needed to go deeper. Their Words of an Unprecedented Year Report summarises the rapid change and development in the English language this year, from the perspective of English speaking countries around the world.
The terminology of the pandemic
We recently wrote about the linguistic mutations of COVID-19. This leads us into the adoption of commonly-used terms to name the novel coronavirus.
Naming the virus: Coronavirus, COVID-19 or Covid?
At the beginning of the pandemic, English speakers were struggling to adapt to the new terminology to describe the virus. From January-March 2020, the leading describer for the virus was ‘Coronavirus’, but in April, COVID-19 experienced a massive jump in uptake, before permanently overtaking Coronavirus from May onwards.
Informal variants have also arisen prominently in the US and Australia, where the virus is often referred to as ‘Corona’ or ‘Rona’.
As of March 2020, coronavirus was one of the most commonly used nouns in the English language.
Masks and face coverings
Vocabulary used to describe face masks and coverings has increased exponentially in 2020. With the mass adoption of face mask-wearing during the pandemic, almost inevitably there have been protestors. As a result, many new and loaded words to describe negative attitudes to mask-wearing have cropped up.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes mask-shaming as a contronym, which means it has two opposite meanings. This multi-use phrase can either apply to act of shaming someone for wearing a mask (such as outgoing US President Donald Trump’s repeated shaming of President-elect Joe Biden’s mask-wearing) or actively shaming someone for not wearing a mask and putting others at risk.
Anti-maskers or the anti-mask movement is a growing topic of discussion throughout the US and Europe. According to Dictionary.com, anti-masker is a “disparaging term used for a person opposed to wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
This is another example of how there has been a need to develop words to express opinions concerning an event which has evidently polarised many peoples’ opinions in the process.
English language innovations around the world in 2020
Most of the lexicographic innovations this year in English speaking countries around the world has stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lot of these innovations have centred on naming government-enforced quarantine measures. In the UK and most English speaking countries, the term lockdown has been normalised and seen the widest adoption. The US, in comparison, often uses ‘shelter-in-place’ to refer to quarantine rules.
Circuit breaker – how new language became normalised
Circuit breaker is a term used to refer to the safety function in an electric circuit. The phrase has also been used as an informal way to explain the financial regulation used to prevent panic selling, by pausing trading.
In April 2020, the term found a new use in Singapore. Singaporeans began using circuit breaker on mass to refer to the Singapore Government’s lockdown restrictions.
This spike in the new usage for the term has now become a regularly adopted phrase in British English, coming to also mean a temporary form of lockdown restrictions, intended to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
The term spiked rapidly in usage in the UK during October, as experts called for a short circuit breaker lockdown to avoid a second wave. Unfortunately, this eventuality was not put in place. This contributed to the second wave of the virus, the December lockdown and unless the vaccine becomes available quick enough, a potential third wave in the New Year — which the relaxation of the restrictions for Christmas could risk increasing the likelihood of.
What’s your word for the year?
What is your word for 2020, (we hate to say it) in this most unprecedented of years? Whatever it is, if you run a multinational organisation, there’s no doubt that the global pandemic has presented serious challenges to your operation or planned expansion activities.
But, like business operations, language mutates at a frightening speed. That’s why our translators are local, native speakers for whichever market you wish to enter into or expand your operations in. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our translation services and the sectors we operate in.