The year 2020 has been so dramatic that mere words are not enough to capture its uniqueness, absurdness, and plain scariness. It needs phrases. And not surprisingly, the top phrases of 2020 seem to fall into two neat catastrophic categories: health and politics. And one can’t forget the inevitable categories: life and future.
Definition: CO for corona; VI for virus; D for disease; 19 for 2019.
Origin: Ironically, we had never even heard of it in 2019, although there were already some rumblings of the disease in China. And even when we first became aware of it in early 2020, we were referring to it as “the coronavirus”. Then on February 11th, Dr. Tedros (Director-General of WHO) declared it officially as Covid-19. Many of us who had grown used to calling it “the coronavirus” were disturbed to learn that there are also other coronaviruses. And we were more perturbed by the suffix “19”. Does that mean there could be a “covid-20”? “Covid-21”?
Related phrases: pandemic; and for the non-believers, plandemic.
Related movies: Virus (Malayalam film); Contagion; Outbreak; The Andromeda Strain; Panic in the Streets;… Actually, it may be better for the nerves to watch happy, pretty, totally escapist Emily in Paris on Netflix.
Definition: What we really mean to say is “physical distancing”, meaning staying 6 feet away from anyone who is not a member of your immediate household in order to minimize chances of catching covid-19. Social distancing can actually be detrimental to our health, especially when we’re also physically distancing. In fact, to maintain our mental health, we need to be socially close to our family and friends at this time via phone, texting, video chats, social media, etc.
Origin: No one knows, but as long as we practice physical distancing until a vaccine is available, no one cares. However, physical distancing can be very difficult in mega-cities like Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and New York City – especially for the poor.
Related phrases: isolating; quarantine; lockdown; wear the mask (it’s not a political statement); flatten the curve.
Related movies: Think Home Alone 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And Home Alone 6 is in the works … but not coming soon to a theatre near you because production is delayed due to covid-19.
The cure is not the vaccine; the cure is the vaccination.
Definition: The CDC defines a vaccine as “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to the specific disease, protecting the person from that disease”. It defines vaccination as “the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease”. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts have stressed that simply developing a vaccine against covid-19 is not sufficient; people have to take the vaccine to protect themselves against covid-19.
Origin: The reason to make such a seemingly obvious statement is that there are a substantial number of anti-vaxxers: people who believe that vaccines are harmful. A recent study in Lancet reports that “31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, with 17 million subscribing to similar accounts on YouTube”. The anti-vaxxer movement has, if anything, grown during the pandemic. And it may also be influential in other parts of the world – e.g., India, Brazil.
Antonyms: I don’t believe in science; The world is flat; I died.
Related movies: Worryingly, a recent study concludes that “Cinematic portrayals of immunization are increasingly unrealistic and negative”.
Definition: Polarized used to mean the special lenses on our sunglasses that reduced glare. But now it means breaking up into opposing factions – as in Republicans vs. Democrats.
Origin: The word is old, but it is becoming more ubiquitous and more dangerous, as it relates to an increasingly divided United States. It denotes disagreements on core issues and more worryingly, core values.
The election was stolen.
Definition: President Trump is saying that he has lost the US 2020 election because of large-scale election fraud: including voter suppression, accepting voters who are not eligible, and manipulation of voting systems. However, the election has been declared legitimate by the OSCE and many other neutral institutions.
Origin: President Trump.
Synonyms: The election was rigged; Stop the steal; Disinformation.
Antonyms: The election was legitimate; international election monitors; Peaceful transfer of power; The Election Commission of India
Definition: those that need to show up to work despite lockdowns due to covid-19. Includes frontline workers in healthcare, childcare, water, energy, food production, food retail, construction, transportation, and social services. Hopefully, this will lead to well-deserved recognition and better remuneration for those whose services we need in our daily lives.
Black Lives Matter.
Definition: a political and social movement protesting against police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people. Not a new phrase, but one that unfortunately needs to be repeatedly voiced.
Origin: It began in the US in 2013 with the acquittal of a white man in the shooting death of a black teenager. The movement has since gone global, with over 450 major protests in 2020.
Related phrases: anti-racism; No justice, no peace; Dalit Lives Matter.
Definition: An easy way that multiple people can have a video chat. It’s also free if you keep your chat under 40 minutes.
Origin: Hot-shot executives may have known about ZOOM since 2013 but they were keeping it quiet so that they could keep traveling all over the globe on business class. Now even your grandma likely knows about ZOOM and uses it to talk each week to all the members of her bhajan group. However, if your grandma is a Palestinian activist, she may be banned from using ZOOM.
Related phrases: Skype, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, JIO Meet, Say Namaste, etc. etc. etc..
Related movies: None…yet. And therein lies a business opportunity.
The next normal.
Definition: While ‘the new normal’ connotes change to a different and stable condition, ‘the next normal’ connotes an ongoing succession of changes. Given climate change, growing inequality, refugees, aging, and future pandemics, our world seems poised for a series of next normals. Hopefully, the next ‘next normal’ will again include trips to India.
Origin: likely the management consulting firm McKinsey, early on in the covid-19 pandemic.
Related terms: the usual unusual; same new, same new.
May 2021 be less dramatic and less phrase-worthy than 2020. And may the next normal bring with it a subsiding of Covid-19, less noxious politics, greater pay for frontline workers, more racial equality, and face-to-face, hug-to-hug, meetings with all our beloved family and friends.
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and phrase-lover.