The Guardian offers a few choices. Doomscrolling has made it into ours, along with necessary others. I think for us, it’s “Bubble”. The fucking Bubble arguments with teens were legion. And still are. “Karen” bothers me, mostly because I only really know smart, caring, calm Karens. And “BLM” should get its own classification and award separate from all this noodling about buzzwords. Well, it really should have gotten that years ago. But this year saw it everywhere.
How do we get new words and how do old words get a fresh twist? In normal times, it’s a well-worn process, linguistic business as usual. There will be a new invention or thing to buy, such as “wifi” (1999) or an “iPod” (2001). People will pick up on trends or changes in behaviour and give them labels such as “crowdfund” (2008) or “catfish” (2012). Last year, the Guardian identified “femtech” and “cancelled” as among the words that embodied 2019. This year, you may have noticed, has been a bit different, the verbal equivalent of a dawn raid: a few insistent items of vocabulary have smashed down the front door and pointed guns at us while we cower under the duvet. And while it’s right that the changes wreaked by the virus dominate this year’s list, there have been other developments. As the big dictionaries unveil their wotys (words of the year), we ask which ones – for good or ill – best capture the spirit of 2020.