Staff Columnist

The year 2020 in words. The ones we can print

An empty Kinnick Stadium is seen beyond a locked gate in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
An empty Kinnick Stadium is seen beyond a locked gate in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

As the year approaches a merciful end, it’s time to ponder the words that described and defined 2020.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Too bad this is a family newspaper.

Instead, we can curse 2020 with the Dutch word of the year, “anderhalvemetersamenleving.” It means “1.5 meter society,” also known as social distancing. But it sounds a lot worse.

The experts at Merriam Webster and Dictionary.com put their heads together for the better part of a minute and came up with “pandemic” as word of the year. The coronavirus pandemic has spread around the globe, affected millions of people and changed everything. No reason to overthink it.

Dictionary.com users slightly preferred “unprecedented” as the top word. A good choice based on usage alone during a year where unprecedented became almost common. For example, the number of consecutive days I went without bothering to shower is unprecedented.

“Dumpster fire,” “pandemonium” and “apocalyptic” also got votes. Seems like a lot of Dictionary.com users were following U.S. politics.

The lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary looked upon the expanse of language that infected 2020 and decided they couldn’t pick a single word of the year. Can’t blame them.

When the pandemic wasn’t sickening us, killing us, forcing us to hide at home, keeping us away from loved ones and ruining our lives, it did spawn some additions to the language, while also bringing new meaning to old words. It’s what passes for a bright side in a very dark year.

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“Blursday” was the perfect word to describe how our days melted into long, formless blobs as we worked and sheltered at home. We spent many of those blursdays “doomscrolling” through the endless stream of horrible news online. At least we could mix up a “quarantini” once our remote work was done. And never before, as far as you know.

In “lockdown,” unfortunately, we learned to use Zoom, and some also learned how to “unmute.” “Virtual” and “remote” became our default existence as “in-person” became painfully rare. Choosing the right Zoom “background” was raised to an art form.

We avoided “superspreaders,” “covidiots” and “Karens,” angry white women either shunning pandemic safety protocols or calling the police on people of color living their lives. Apologies to all the perfectly lovely people named Karen out there.

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds led us to a new pandemic lexicon, even if she didn’t “crush the curve” or even “flatten the curve.” Instead the curve became a mountain.

Reynolds told us often she was relying on “data and metrics” to decide to enact appropriate public health measures, or skip them entirely. Unfortunately, the data and metrics were subject to “glitches” that gave Iowans a distorted picture of the pandemic’s true impact.

When we got tired of data and metrics, the governor insisted her decision to reopen the state against the advice of health experts was needed to balance “lives and livelihoods.” She campaigned for Republicans across Iowa while often “maskless,” refused to mandate the use of masks and said GOP election gains “validated” her approach.

Many emails I received from angry readers claimed their chance of dying from COVID-19 is “minuscule,” so there’s no need to wear masks or avoid gatherings. Rely instead on “herd immunity.”

The governor was on the same page when she repeatedly told us to “live with it.”

In November, cases and hospitalizations skyrocketed and deaths have continued to mount through December. Who could have predicted it? Not the maskless minusculians.

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In other big news, the words “Black Lives Matter” echoed on our streets and through our Statehouse, where lawmakers came together for a brief shining moment to address police reform measures. The fight for justice against entrenched “systemic racism” continues, as evidenced by many of the same lawmakers passing measures making it harder to vote.

Do you remember the Iowa caucuses’ epic “meltdown?” Yeah, me neither.

And in the new definitions department, the word “fraud” now also means “a candidate I don’t support won an election so it must be fraud!”

Locally, the word of the year is “derecho,” hands down.

The massive thunderstorm with winds up to 140 mph devastated a wide swath of Eastern Iowa, with Cedar Rapids and surrounding communities taking a direct hit. Area residents still are struggling to recover, make needed repairs to damaged homes and remove fallen trees. The scars left behind will take a generation or more to heal.

A lot of us had never even heard of a derecho. Now it’s a word etched in our collective history. Move over “Epic Surge” and make room for a new climatic nightmare.

At the end of last year, I expressed hope that “change” would be the word that defined 2020. I was not thinking of a global pandemic or a violent hell-storm. I figured a new president might be nice, and we’ll get one, despite all of the “fraud.”

This year, I’ll just be happy if change means flipping the calendar to 2021.

(319) 398-82626; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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