The year 2020 will go down in the annals of history as a year that changed the world altogether. Not only the life of the people changed beyond imagination, but the vocabulary of everyday use also altered noticeably. Words which were earlier unheard of, lying buried in the pages of dictionary surfaced to become commonly used household terms. Many obscure technical terms moved from the jargon of professionals to the glossary of general public.
The world got a new collective vocabulary almost overnight on March 11, the day COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by WTO. In 2020 pandemic turned the world topsy-turvy, overwhelmed the life and psyche of people all across the world and also dominated public conversation. Not surprisingly, two premier English dictionaries- Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com- have declared ‘pandemic’ the ‘word of the year 2020’ by. Prior to 2020 most of us were blissfully unaware of pandemic and the havoc it can cause. Of course, we knew about epidemics, but had to look-up in the dictionary to understand that pandemic is an epidemic that spreads across countries and continents.
Another addition to common vocabulary this year is ‘lockdown’ about which most of us were absolutely clues-less. We came to know about lock-down only after the governments all across the globe started imposing restrictions on the movement of people and activities to prevent the spread of the disease. Talking about my own awareness, as a student of economics I was familiar with lock-out which is stoppage of work by the management during labour disputes but, frankly, I had no idea about lockdown. However, now everyone in the world is familiar with the term.
For reducing the risk of virus transmission, ‘new normal’ is the new reality of the pandemic ravaged world which has not only changed our life-style but also overwhelmed our conversation. Masks have made a dramatic entry into our wardrobe and also our glossary. ‘Social distancing’ implying keeping physical distance from one another is not only a new norm but also a part of our normal vocabulary. As the use of sanitizers zoomed this year, sanitizer has become a part of common man’s terminology which is akin to democratization of glossary. The words which were earlier the preserve of educated elite are now commonly being used by the masses.
The usage of the terms, ‘Covid’, ‘Covid19’, ‘Coronavirus’, and ‘Corona’ boomed in 2020. According to global Language Monitor, an American-data-research company that tracks word use in English language all over the world, Covid is the top word of 2020. ‘Covid has the most citations ever recorded in the 21st century, where ‘Co’ stands for corona; ‘vi’ is for virus and ‘D’ for disease. Another word ‘Coronavirus’, that was little used outside medical contexts until this year, rocketed from obscurity to ubiquity. ‘Contact tracing’, ‘herd immunity’, ‘quarantine’ are other scientific terms that have entered everyday language like never before and across the board.
The year 2020 has been a bleak year dominated by a glossary of heavy words. Let us hope the dawn of 2021 brings about a positive change in the world and along with that bring a vocabulary of easy-breezy words that signifies positivity and optimism.
(Published in Mompresso 25 December 2020)