The Words That Shaped 2020

by Jeanette the Writer
published in Community

Thank [insert deity here] 2020 is almost over! When we look back on everything that shaped our world this year, it’s difficult to boil it down to just a few words. But that’s exactly what Oxford Languages does every year. Their Word of the Year is awarded to a term they deem has “lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

But 2020 has been so strange in so many ways, which is why there is no Word of the Year winner this year. Instead, they released a full report of words—Oxford Languages 2020: Words of an Unprecedented Year. From the most-searched terms to the most recently added, here are the top words we heard, searched for, created, and used in 2020.


With global lockdowns and business restrictions, the regular buzz of human interaction and travel has come to a halt. An anthropause, therefore, is the slowing or stopping of cultural human activity. This is not to be confused with Cancel Culture, which is a public rejection of previously acceptable practices or views.

Black Lives Matter

This phrase exploded onto the scene in June and has remained one of the most-searched-for terms of the year. In fact, searches related to systemic racism have increased by 1623% from 2019 to 2020 according to the report. We expect and hope to see these words at a continual peak until the systemic racism and police brutality against Black, Indigenous, and other people of color has come to an end.


Time tends to warp when your entire life has been upended. Your previous habits—gym on Monday/Wednesday, lunch with the girls every Thursday, etc.—gave you subtle ways of keeping the days and weeks straight. Now that folks are stuck at home, it doesn’t even seem to matter what day of the week it is, much less can anyone remember. Every day is now called Blursday.


Previously a spherical pocket of gas enclosed in liquid, your “bubble” now refers to the group of people you have close contact with, such as any household members or coworkers. Coronavirus is known to spread within bubbles once it is introduced. Everyone’s bubbles overlap, which is adding to the spread of the virus. The tighter you can keep your bubble, the safer you may be (no guarantees!).


This word isn’t new, but March this year was the first time most of us became aware of it and its meaning. Used as a general term for Covid-19, coronavirus has been reported as one of the most frequently used nouns of the year. This is one term that won’t be missed when it finally dissipates. 


There’s certainly a lot of bad news in the world this year, and 2020 made it more and more difficult to find a safe space on the internet to escape from it all. Thus, many of us turned to doomscrolling. This slang term refers to our tendencies to scroll endlessly through worrying pages of articles or social posts. Definitely something to be on the lookout for and abate immediately.


One reason doomscrolling happens is because of the corresponding cultural infodemic. Infodemic refers to a state where information (often incorrect or unsubstantiated) becomes overwhelming to the public until we cannot distinguish fact from fiction. 


Agree with this one or not, there’s no doubt that Karen has taken on a much deeper meaning than just a pretty name. In case you need a refresher, “Karen” is a general slang term used to describe a certain type of woman who shows disregard for others and often asks to see the manager. It may not be as eloquent as a Shakespearean insult, but our generation does its best. 

Net Zero

“Climate Emergency” was the Word of the Year in 2019, so it’s no wonder climate-related words are still on the list. Among others, there was a lot of buzz around the term Net Zero, which refers to the idea that an entity can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by combatting carbon-producing activities with an equal measure of carbon-reducing ones. This is sometimes also referred to as becoming carbon neutral.


Standing for Personal Protective Equipment, this became a hot commodity in March when coronavirus cases began climbing worldwide. These days, billions of people around the world wear PPE on a daily basis, mostly in the form of face masks worn by the general public. Other pieces of PPE include gloves and face shields.


This one definitely wins the award for most overused. Even Oxford Languages put it in their report title as a tongue-in-cheek nod to its abuse. Meaning “never before seen,” it certainly did apply to many of 2020’s events. But that still doesn’t take away the fact that everyone decided to use a $10 word where a $1 word would do.


This clearly isn’t new, and it didn’t take on any special meaning this year, but the news was dominated by wildfires raging in Australia, the US, and the Amazon (many of these are still burning). The devastation caused by these blazes has affected people near and far, including those in our word nerd family.


This word is already a few years old, but it saw a 500% jump in usage in 2020 with the major uptick in remote working. Since most people can’t or shouldn’t be going anywhere anyway, it becomes tempting to take a day or two off and then end up doing work during it anyway.

It’s impossible to sum up the year that is 2020 in just a word or two. We applaud Oxford Languages for their creative list this year and look forward to a much happier list in 2021!

Jeanette the Writer is an editor, coach, and freelance writer who wants to help others demolish their editing fears and finish their manuscript. As a former scuba instructor turned entrepreneur, Jeanette knows about putting in the hard work to pursue your passions. She has worked with authors, speakers, coaches, and entrepreneurs—empowering them with the right mindset, knowledge, and tools to help them tackle their editing goals. You can learn more about Jeanette by visiting

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