Now that 2020 is (finally!) over, in what has become a true Kobalt tradition, we'd like to take a look at the words that have created the biggest ripples in our society during the last 12 months. As translators, keeping a finger on the pulse of language comes with the territory, but it’s also fascinating to see how words that were previously mere entries in the dictionary can transform into part of a zeitgeist overnight.
It goes without saying that 2020 has been the most utterly bizarre year, and there have been plenty of words, both new and old, that have stepped into the limelight to help us explain all the ways in which the world was turning upside down. This inevitably means that the list reflects a year that has been far darker than we would have liked, but such is the way of language. The words, let’s check ‘em out!
This one is probably the word that will stick the most when historians look back at this year and try to figure out what the hell happened. Previously a word relegated to disaster movies and sermons from people on the streets of New York with apocalyptic cardboard signs, it quickly became a reality as the virus spiraled out of control. A word that used to be laughed off by pretty much everybody has now become a global, era-defining nightmare. What an impressive appearance!
This pesky little virus in the shape of a squishy balloon covered in funny limbs has also made quite an entrance. We have always had coronaviruses floating around. The common cold is one of them and we deal with it every year, but few people expected this kind of carnage from one of its distant cousins. Now pretty much everybody who hasn’t been living under a rock knows what a coronavirus is, and more importantly, how to minimize its transmission.
Another one straight from the crop of disaster flick jargon. The few times lockdown had been used in the real world, there was a general rule that the areas being locked down had been previously evacuated. What a surprise it was to find out that towns and cities were under lock and chain with us still in them.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer with a rather questionable track record sparked a wave of protests against the historical racial discrimination within the American justice system that spread across the world under the banner of Black Lives Matter. Though eventually part of the protests escalated into violence and riots, the underlying message calling for police reform became so loud that it undeniably reshaped the way in which many people view the law enforcement system.
While the pejorative term “Karen” is a female name, it can perfectly be applied to a person of any gender, as it describes a type of behavior. A Karen is an entitled middle-aged individual, usually from a relatively privileged background, who lacks empathy and fails to recognize the struggles of the rest of the world if they happen to interfere with their goals or short-term whims. Similar to the pejorative use of “Boomer”, it signifies the different attitudes created by the growing inter-generational economic inequality that has reached an almost unsustainable peak in the last two decades. Karens have sailed through life on a wave of economic prosperity, and don’t understand why poor people don’t just stop being poor.
That’s 2020 for you!