2020, in a few choice words

2020, in a few choice words

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.


Large numbers of people looked up the word "Defund" in 2020 to understand what many US protesters were chanting about this summer. Calls to "defund the police" erupted following the police killing of George Floyd, but many voters were confused about whether it meant stripping police of all funding or simply diverting some of the police budget toward mental health services and community development projects. Former president Barack Obama opined this week that calls to "defund the police" had "lost a big audience," costing Democrats at the ballot box last month.

Searches for the word "Icon" spiked following the deaths of Congressman John Lewis in July and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. Lewis and Ginsburg are excellent examples of those whose achievements lift them beyond fame toward myth, and there were far too many similar losses in every country to list here. But COVID-19 also stole many an icon from within families around the world.

Merriam-Webster has included the word "Irregardless" in every edition of its dictionary since 1934, but online searches for the word skyrocketed this year when actress Jamie Lee Curtis said something provocative that we're just too lazy to investigate. Here's the deal: The correct word is "regardless." As in… "Regardless of its inclusion in Merriam Webster's dictionary, 'irregardless' is not a damn word."

Curiosity about the word "Kraken" rose suddenly in July when Seattle's professional hockey team took the name of this "fabulous Scandinavian sea monster." What better metaphor for 2020 than the unseen beast that threatens our lives and makes travel especially dangerous? Searches for this word spiked again in November when Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell promised to "release the kraken," evidence that proves the US presidential election was stolen from her client. Until a US court tells us otherwise, we'll assume that this particular mythical monster lives at the bottom of a lake in Edison County, Michigan.

Speaking of "Malarkey," that's a word meaning "insincere or foolish talk" that's become part of president-elect Joe Biden's "Regular Joe" political brand. Republicans say Democrats are the party of elites, and many voters agree. To avoid that label, Bill Clinton likes to talk about aging hound dogs, and Barack Obama sometimes launches into a bizarro Chicago/Hawaii-style southern accent that makes us actual southerners suppress the giggles. Merriam-Webster is at its most amusing in listing synonyms for malarkey, and it's not hard to imagine Biden whipping out any of these folksy words. (Our favorites are blatherskite, fiddle-faddle, and tommyrot.)

The word "Quarantine" derives from a 14th century Italian word that describes the 40-day isolation of a ship entering port to protect those on shore from the risk of Bubonic Plague. In 2020, it took on the broader meaning of isolation, a trial suffered by those infected with the coronavirus and those who hoped to avoid it. But isolation and loneliness have taken a heavy toll on mental and emotional health around the world this year.

Finally, there is "Schadenfreude," a German word meaning "enjoyment taken from the troubles of others." The world faced many an unexpected misfortune in 2020, and responses were often shaped by affiliation to political tribe rather than human empathy. Here's hoping for lighter burdens and a little more kindness in 2021.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

More Show less

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

More Show less

Iran was involved in two naval incidents in the Gulf of Oman in recent days. The US, UK, and Israel have blamed Iran for a drone attack that killed two European nationals. Iran has rejected the accusations. Iran is also suspected in the "potential hijack" of a tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

These provocations are happening just as Iran inaugurates a new president, Ebrahim Raisi, and as talks continue over the possible US re-entry into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. What's the connection between these events? We asked Henry Rome, Eurasia Group's deputy head of research and a director covering global macro politics and the Middle East.

More Show less

Whenever Burkina Faso is in the news, it's often about how the crisis-ridden country has got caught up in the crosshairs of horrific jihadist violence plaguing the Sahel.

But this week, the nation of 20 million was celebrating because Hugues Fabrice Zango won its first-ever Olympic medal after finishing third in the men's triple jump in Tokyo.

More Show less

Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

More Show less

80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

More Show less

On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Does alcohol help bring the world together?

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal