Oxford English Dictionary passes on single “Word of the Year,” selects many for 2020

by Peter Heck · Nov 24th, 2020 9:00 am

Last Updated Nov 25th, 2020 at 11:02 am

The Oxford English Dictionary has opted against declaring its 2020 "Word of the Year," saying that the rapidly changing environment of the chaotic year made it impossible to select just one. In 2019, the OED determined "climate emergency" was worthy of the designation, just as "toxic" was in 2018.

This year, the OED decided to highlight the fluid nature of word, showing how it usage of those words spiked from month to month.

  • January: "bushfire" – as Australia dealt with terrible wildfires
  • February: "acquittal" – as President Trump was acquitted in his impeachment trial
  • March – May: "COVID-19," "lockdown," "social distancing," "reopening" – as the country and world struggled through the global pandemic
  • June: "Black Lives Matter" – as the protests over George Floyd's death unfolded
  • August: "Mail-in" and "Belarusian," a reference to mail-in voting in the U.S. and the controversial reelection of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
  • September: "Moonshot" — as the U.K. launched a mass coronavirus testing program
  • October: "superspreader" and "net zero" – as a late September White House event announcing Amy Coney Barrett's nomination resulted in the spread of COVID-19 to those gathered and Chinese President Xi Jinping's pledge that the country will be carbon neutral by 2060.

"It quickly became apparent that 2020 is not a year that could neatly be accommodated in one single 'word of the year,'" the OED reported. "Though what was genuinely unprecedented this year was the hyper-speed at which the English-speaking world amassed a new collective vocabulary relating to the coronavirus, and how quickly it became, in many instances, a core part of the language."

The OED issued its report, "Words of an Unprecedented Year," on Monday.


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