To say that 2020 was a “special” year is clearly an understatement. “Exceptional”, “dramatic”, “unthinkable”, make the idea much better. And how naïve we were last January all taken to share photos of the decade that has just passed and full of hope for a new beginning. It is almost tender to remember how carefree we were, light years away from imagining that 2020 would be a year of this type, with a global health crisis and a whole host of new habits, problems, fears and perspectives. If words are used to tell who we are, it is evident that we would never have expected to start using terms such as “pandemic”, “quarantine”, “coronavirus” and “lockdown” on a daily basis. The words that have characterized this crazy 2020 are many: we know it and the Oxford English Dictionary also knows it well, which like every year in this period has begun to skim the words to choose the “word of the year”. But there is no point in puzzling over what it will be, the institution threw in the towel: “2020 is a year that cannot be neatly enclosed in a single word”.
“From a language perspective, I’ve never seen a year like the one we just had,” Oxford Dictionaries President Casper Grathwohl told The Guardian, “The Oxford team has identified hundreds of new words and meaningful uses over the course of the year, dozens of which would have been perfect as a word of the year at any other time ”. But the point is that there are too many significant terms because too much is what has happened in recent months. How to choose between “coronavirus”, “pandemic” and “mask”? “What was truly unprecedented this year,” adds Grathwohl, “was the hyper-speed with which the English language accumulated a new collective vocabulary related to the coronavirus and how quickly it became, in many cases, a part fundamental of the language “.
The OED, therefore, has chosen to propose a list of words, all very important to draw a picture of these absurd 12 months. Obviously, the list cannot miss “coronavirus”, a word that dates back to the 1960s, but which, before now, was mainly used by scientists. “Covid-19”, on the other hand, is a term born in 2020, recorded for the first time on 11 February in a report by the World Health Organization and, according to the OED team, it seems that it has quickly overcome “coronavirus” as frequency of use.