Oxford English Dictionary couldn’t pick one word of the year for ‘unprecedented’ 2020

Oxford English releases 'Words of an Unprecedented Year' report

The year 2020 has been so unprecedented that a single word can’t be used to sum it up, officials with Oxford English Dictionary announced Monday.

In lieu of its usual word of the year announcement, the British publisher said Monday that not one, but dozens of words defined the year.

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“The English language, like all of us, has had to adapt rapidly and repeatedly this year,” according to Oxford English Dictionary’s annual word of the year report. “Given the phenomenal breadth of language change and development during 2020, Oxford Languages concluded that this is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated into a single word.”

In January, wildfires raging across Australia made “bushfire” a trending term. Simultaneously, “impeachment” spiked due to proceedings in the House of Representatives against President Donald Trump. By February, “acquittal” reached its peak in usage after the Senate acquitted the president and allowed him to remain in office.

One month later, the use of the term “coronavirus” surged dramatically.

“Although the word coronavirus dates to the 1960s, before 2020 its use was mainly confined to scientific and medical specialists,” Oxford English Dictionary officials said in the group’s Words of an Unprecedented Year report. “By March this year it was one of the most frequently used nouns in the English language, after being used to designate the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

The ongoing pandemic caused terms including “COVID-19,” “lockdown,” “social distancing,” “reopening,” “mail-in,” “moonshot” and “superspreader” to trend over the course of the year, according to Oxford English Dictionary.

Over the summer, protests against racial injustice and police brutality nationwide led to an explosion in the use of “Black Lives Matter.” In July, dictionary officials noted a spike in the use of the terms “cancel culture” and “BIPOC,” an abbreviation of black, indigenous and other people of color.

Other terms used frequently this year include “Belarusian,” following the August re-election of longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and “net zero.”

Last year, Oxford Dictionaries chose the word “climate emergency” as its word of the year. In 2018, the group chose “toxic” as its word of the year while “youthquake,” meaning “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people,” was chosen in 2017.