COVID-19 spreads to our vocabulary: “Mask-shaming,” “remotely” among Oxford Language’s Words of 2020

While we all have a few choice words for 2020 — many unprintable — Oxford Languages has some “official” ones.

Each year, the language experts choose a word that defines a particular year. For example, 2018, their choice was “toxic.” 2019 gave us “climate emergency.” 

However, because 2020 has been — well, a lot, the organization’s annual report for this “unprecedented year” opens with, “…Oxford Languages concluded that this is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word.”

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has infected the list, which not only includes the virus’ name, but also words with which we’ve become unfortunately accustomed, such as “social distancing,” “lockdown” and “superspreader.”

As Oxford Languages notes, “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.”

This explains the inclusion of words like “mask-shaming,” and “remotely,” as in working remotely.

Believe it or not, other stuff happened this year, too, like the Australian bushfires, the presidential impeachment and the explosion of so-called “cancel culture,” so words related to those events made the list, too.

Here are some of the most-used words of 2020, according to Oxford Languages’ experts:

“Social Distancing”
“Black Lives Matter”
“cancel culture”
“BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color)”
“Belarussian (bella-ROO’-see-yin)”
“net zero”