Glossary of 2020: the 36 new words and phrases that defined the year

Much of this year may have been a blursday bubble, but it certainly wasn’t lost for words. Not sure what we mean? Here is a lexical list to help

Sourdough starter, WFH (working from home) and Karen have all entered our lexicon in 2020, along with a host of new words and phrases. Instagram, Unsplash, Twitter
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It's hard enough staying on top of the hot new words and phrases of the younger generation, but this year we had a whole other lexicon to master: pandemic speak. 

With 2020 officially the year the world got weird, our language evolved to accommodate that, throwing up coinages such as covidiot, flex and coronacoaster, while "you're on mute" became one of the most uttered phrases of the year thanks to Zoom. So, if you want to perfect your panny d speak and know more about the other words that made it to our lips in 2020, read on …

Blursday (noun)

During a year in which time ceased to have any meaning because we were all stuck at home wearing pyjamas 24/7, it made sense to stop bothering to remember what day it was, too. Blursday can refer to any day of the week.

Use: "I'm not sure what day is it today. It's a Blursday."

Bubble (noun, verb)

Bubbles used to be the things children blew in the garden, but the word has taken on a less fun meaning. Your bubble is the group of people you're allowed to interact with to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Use: "I need to figure out who I like the most out of my friends to have in my bubble."

Cap (noun, verb)

'The Kissing Booth 2' actress, Joey King, called out her co-star, Jacob Elordi for saying he hadn't seen the film. Twitter

Cap, or capping, is the 2020 word for lying about something. Alternatively, ‘no cap’ means you’re telling the truth.

Use: "Noah said he parkoured up the Burj Khalifa? He's totally capping!"

Coronacoaster (verb)

The ultimate description of what kind of year 2020 has been. Although, if we’re being honest, an actual roller coaster has both ups and downs, whereas 2020 has been mainly downs.

Use: "I can't wait for next year to come, 2020 has been a total coronacoaster."

Covideo party (noun)

Birthdays, weddings and other special occasions and events had to become covideo parties this year. Unsplash

Remember when parties used to consist of gathering with your friends in one place to talk and dance into the night? Yeah, parties aren't like that any more. Instead we have covideo parties, which are socially distanced gatherings over Zoom. Dancing optional.

Use: "For my birthday this year, I'm going to throw myself an awesome covideo party."

Covidiot (noun)

A description for anyone who flouts the rules and regulations that were introduced to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus. Not practising social distancing, not washing your hands and failing to wear a mask are all traits of a classic covidiot.

Use: "Check out those cov­idiots over there without their mask on."

Covigilante (noun)

Covigilantes took it upon themselves to police other people's pandemic behaviour. Unsplash

The suburban net curtain-­twitcher comes of age in the shape of the covigilante – a person who is constantly on the lookout for others who are breaking lockdown rules. Granted, we should call out people who are knowingly putting others in danger by spreading the virus, but if it's unintentional or not too serious, then let's cut everyone a little slack, too.

Use: "Karen asked to speak to the manager because the person behind her in the queue was standing 1.96 metres away from her rather than 2 metres. She's such a covigilante."

Doomscrolling (verb)

Pessimists step into the light, for your time on this planet has come. Doomscrolling (see also: doomsurfing) is the act of scrolling through social media, or online in general, looking for negative news to confirm your suspicions that everything is indeed pretty rubbish right now.

Use: "So, last night I was going to watch The Crown, but ended up doomscrolling until midnight."

Fit (noun)

Any Brits reading this are no doubt thinking: “Give it a rest, we’ve been saying ‘fit’ for years.” But hold your horses because fit has a different meaning in 2020. It’s short for outfit, because presumably, speaking the entire two syllables of the word was a burden on everyone’s time.

Use: "That fit is fire, Becky, but where on earth are you going to wear it?"

Flex (noun, verb)

You only have to go on Instagram or TikTok for 0.3 seconds and you’ll come across a flex. It’s the act of showing off, whether your ripped abs, the result of your latest shopping haul or your cute new partner (whom you must refer to as “this nerd”). To take the edge off this obvious power move, counter with: “Weird flex, but hey”, adding a shrug emoji.

Use: "Did you see Saeed's flex at the gym on Instagram? If he'd posed any harder he'd have dislocated something."

Herd immunity (collective noun)

The word “herd” used to conjure up images of groups of camels or cows, but the pandemic turned us, humans, into the herd. The phrase became synonymous with Sweden, which famously eschewed a national lockdown in favour of hoping to achieve herd immunity faster. Alas, we’re not there yet.

Use: "I can't wait until we achieve herd immunity, so I can go where I like without remembering my N95."

Infodemic (noun, adjective)

The Infodemic of 2020 overwhelmed a lot of people with the constant deluge of information, Unsplash

An amalgamation of “information” and “pandemic”, the word infodemic covers the sheer volume of news everyone has been constantly and relentlessly exposed to about the coronavirus, ever since the pandemic took hold.

Use: "I don't know what to think about Covid-19 anymore, thanks to this infodemic deluge."

Immunity passport (noun)

There’s the possibility next year that an immunity passport might be the latest thing you need to carry around to prove you’re vaccinated against Covid-19. Another item for a husband to “just put in” their wife’s handbag, with their wallet, phone, keys …

Use: "Can I just put my immunity passport in your bag, honey?"

Karen (proper noun) / A complaint of Karens (collective noun)

Amy Cooper, dubbed 'Central Park Karen' went viral after making baseless claims to the police about a black birdwatcher called Christian Cooper. Twitter

Karen is the pejorative name given to anyone who behaves in a demanding or entitled manner. The most common stereotype has emerged of the middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to insist on getting her own way at the expense of others.

Use: "This Karen asked to speak to the manager because we'd run out of soya milk."

See also, Central Park Karen: The name given to an American woman called Amy Cooper who, back in May, called the police on Christian Cooper, a black man out birdwatching, after he politely asked her to put a leash on her dog. She told cops: "An African-­American man with a bicycle helmet, he is recording me and threatening my dog."

Also, Space Karen: The name a Twitter user called Emma Bell bestowed upon Tesla chief executive Elon Musk after he repeatedly played down the pandemic and tweeted there was "something bogus going on" about his coronavirus test results.

Lockdown engagement (noun)

Actor Max Ehrich popped the question to Demi Lovato after one month of dating, presenting her with a $1 million diamond. Instagram

As ubiquitous across social media as the sourdough starter (see below), the lockdown engagement is the act of popping the question because you've read the entire internet, watched everything on Netflix and are looking for the next distraction. US actress and singer Demi Lovato became the poster child for the lockdown engagement, when she and The Young and the Restless actor Max Ehrich got engaged one month after quarantining together. (Spoiler: they broke up.)

Use: "I'm so bored of this pandemic and YouTube's gone down. Wanna get lockdown engaged?"

Monolith (noun)

AThis Nov. 27, 2020 photo by Terrance Siemon shows a monolith that was placed in a red-rock desert in an undisclosed location in San Juan County southeastern Utah. New clues have surfaced in the disappearance of the gleaming monolith in Utah that seemed to melt away as mysteriously as it appeared in the red-rock desert. A Colorado photographer told a TV station in Salt Lake City that he saw four men push over the hollow, stainless steel structure in Utah on Friday night. (Terrance Siemon via AP)

It was the distraction 2020 needed. A helicopter flying over the remote canyons of Utah’s northern San Juan County spotted a three-­metre-tall metal monolith in the middle of nowhere, sparking the debate: “Is it aliens, or is it a viral campaign for Google?” Pretty soon, similar monoliths were cropping up all over the world, in Morocco, Belgium, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Croydon, South London. While 2020 can’t lay claim to inventing the word “monolith”, it can claim to have been the year that sparked a global monolith pandemic.

Use: "I'm at a bit of a loose end now I've watched everything on Netflix. Fancy building a monolith and putting it in Deira to get everyone talking?"

N95 mask (noun)

Masks definitely had their moment in the spotlight in 2020. The blue-coloured medical ones were the mask of choice for most of the world, before bespoke and patterned ones that you could match to your outfit came along. But in between was the N95 mask. Usually found attached to the faces of painters or asbestos removers, for a brief time it became the respiratory accessory du jour.

Use: "Hang on a sec, let me just grab my N95 – gotta stay safe against the panny d."

Pandemic (adjective, noun)

Yes, the word has been around for longer than 2020, but unless you were alive at the time of the Spanish Flu, you won’t have had the need to utter it since 1918. So, we claim it, it’s ours.

Use: "Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic, what have you done with your time?" "Not write King Lear."

Panny D (adjective, noun)

'Panny D': The word 'pandemic', but make it fun. Unsplash

We can’t say it’s a shortened version of “pandemic”, because both words consist of three syllables, but we can guarantee that it’s a lot more fun to say.

Use: "This panny d is more boring than season seven of Supernatural."

Periodt (noun)

Periodt, as in the American version for “full stop” or “end of”, has been given a Gen Z makeover for 2020. The letter “t” has been added to the end for greater emphasis, making for a slightly more intense way of essentially saying “And we’re done.” Because if we’re anything in 2020, it’s intensely done.

Use: "So, I told that Karen, there will be no more speaking with the manager. Periodt!"

Quaranteam (noun)

Those people at work you used to call your colleagues? They’re now your quaranteam. They might not be at home with you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy virtual chats around the water quarancooler and fights over the temperature of the air-quaranditioner.

Use: "Right, let's get the quaranteam together to circle back on this blue sky thinking."

Quaranteen (noun)

The Quaranteen came of age during the pandemic. Unsplash

Stuck in the house with teenagers during lockdown? Congratulations, you just experienced life with a quaranteen. Expect to spend the next few decades arguing with parents of quarantoddlers and quarantweens over which childhood age group was the worst to be stuck with.

Use: "My quaranteens have been watching Friends on Netflix and think they're the first to discover it. They think Ross is a total Karen."

Quarantine (noun, verb)

It used to be that the word quarantine was only heard about once or twice a year following the words: “My pet’s in” when chatting with friends who were moving to another country. But once the pandemic came along, quarantine became the catch-all to describe the state of staying away from friends and family, both if you were feeling fine or unwell.

Use: "I can't make the socially distanced walk this evening, because I'm in quarantine."

Social distancing (adjective, noun, verb)

Social distancing and staying two metres apart from one another has become the new way of interacting. Unsplash

As with the word “pandemic”, social distancing wasn’t invented in 2020, we just took it, used it to death, and now everyone’s sick of it. Which, when you think about it, makes it ripe for a Hollywood remake.

Use: "Fancy going for a walk later so I can get away from my quaranteens? Socially distanced, of course."

Sourdough starter (noun)

Remember back in the early days of the panny d when everyone thought it would only last about a month, so there was a run on yeast and strong bread flour at the supermarket? Remember how everyone started making sourdough starters and flexing them all over Instagram? Those were the days, eh?

Use: "My sourdough starter looked cute. Might delete later."

The new normal (noun)

Officially classified as: a current situation or social custom that differs from what has previously been experienced over a prolonged period. We wonder how long it will be until someone cashes in and writes a TV show / releases a celebrity fragrance called “New Normal”?

Use: "If I regret my lockdown engagement, can I just blame it on the new normal?"

The ‘rona (noun)

A more casual way of saying coronavirus, the fun thing about the 'rona is how much more easily it can be slipped in to replace song lyrics. Try it next time The Knack's My Sharona or Los Del Rio's Macarena comes on your shuffle.

Use: "Dale a tu cuerpo alegría oh the 'rona / Que tu cuerpo es pa' darle alegría why cosa Buena / Dale a tu cuerpo alegría, oh the 'rona / Hey oh the 'rona."

(See also: panny D)

Try gallery view (verb)

If the phrase "you're on mute" is number one on parent Zoom calls (see below), then "Try gallery view" takes the top spot for Zoom chats with the quaranteam. It's the business meeting equivalent of calling your IT department to be told: "Try switching it off and on again."

Use: "You can't see us? Try gallery view."

Virtual background (noun)

Use the kitchen from hit TV show Golden Girls as a virtual background for your Zoom video calls. Courtesy Modsy

Oh, you're in the Queen Vic public house from Eastenders? Oh, you're on a Hawaiian beach? Oh, you're hanging out with Joe Exotic from Tiger King? Virtual backgrounds were funny for about five minutes, until you got bored chatting to a disembodied head.

Use: "Hello all you cool cats and kittens, check out my Carole Baskin virtual background."

WFH or Working from home (verb)

WFH, the shortened version of 'working from home', has become the new normal for millions across the globe. Unsplash

This is one of those fun quirks of the English language whereby the acronym is actually longer to say than what it’s short for. Only by one syllable, but still, it could make a fun fact on your next Zoom quiz.

Use: "So busy WFH today."

You’re on mute / You’re not on mute

Director Tristram Shapeero said he was 'mortified' when Lukas Gage called him out for being unmuted on Zoom. Twitter / Lukas Gage

A front runner for the title of “Most Oft-Repeated Phrase When Chatting to One’s Parent over Zoom”, it’s incredible that we had to wait until almost the end of the year for a celeb to screw up the mute button so spectacularly, but that’s 2020 for you. Best exemplified by actor Lukas Gage’s encounter with British director Tristram Shapeero, who tore into the decor of Gage’s “tiny apartment” while the actor waited to start his Zoom audition. “You’re unmuted,” Gage told him, before being more gracious than the director has clearly ever been in his whole life.

Use: "You're unmuted" – Lukas Gage

Zoom (verb)

Again, 2020 can’t lay claim to the word zoom, but it can take responsibility for turning it from a noun into a verb in the same way as happened for Google. You’re welcome, English language dictionary compilers.

Use: "Fancy a Zoom to watch The Queen's Gambit together?"

Zoom Shirt (noun)

The act of getting smartly dressed only from the waist up in order to look professional on a Zoom call. Business up top, sweatpants down below.

Use: "My conference call's about to start, better get my Zoom shirt on."

Zoombombing (verb)

The act of appearing, intentionally or unintentionally, in the background of someone else’s Zoom call. The ultimate Zoombomb will always belong to Marion and James Kelly, the children who so stylishly hijacked their dad, Professor Robert Kelly, during his BBC interview on South Korean politics back in 2017. So, we like to think every Zoombomb of 2020 is in some way, an homage to the Kelly children.

Use: "I accidentally Zoombombed Nakul's call with his boss when I walked behind dressed as the 'rona for Helen's covideo party."