2020 – English Words Of The Year

When you think about 2020, the words you associate with it are “challenging”, “difficult”, or even “unbelievable”. Most of us have never experienced such a year – and we probably never want another year like it again.

There are some words that I associate with 2020 – words that I saw again and again. Some are common words, but many are words that are old-fashioned, but which were perfect for events.


Coronavirus was the biggest story of 2020. Here are some words which were important:

Covid-19 = the name of the disease caused by a new type of coronavirus

pandemic = an “epidemic” that spreads across the world

quarantine = isolation from others (animals used to be quarantined when they arrived in the UK to stop the disease of rabies spreading into the UK)
“Travellers will have to quarantine for ten days.” (verb)
“They will have to go into quarantine.” (noun)

lockdown = when the whole country stays at home. There were two national lockdowns in the UK in 2020, and probably more to come in 2021
“We went into lockdown at the end of March.”

bubble = when two households are considered as one household, so that they can go into each other’s houses – often to provide care / support for an elderly or vulnerable person
“My father is in my sister’s support bubble.”

furlough = when you can’t go into work, but you’re still paid for a period of time (pronounced “fir-low”)
“He’s been furloughed from work.” (verb)
“He’s on furlough.” (noun)

strain / variant / mutation = when the virus changes and causes a new type
“Scientists have identified a new strain / variant.”
“The mutation probably originated in southern England.”

key worker = someone working in a “key” area, like doctors, nurses, teachers, refuse collectors, supermarkets, etc
“We need to protect our key workers and make sure they’re the first to get a vaccination.”

panic-buying = when people were worried that they couldn’t buy certain things in supermarkets, so they bought as much of it in advance as they could
“Panic-buying emptied the supermarket shelves of toilet paper, rice, flour and pasta.”

face-mask = something you never leave home without!

Changes in 2020

This is the year when everything went online, as people stayed at home:

streaming = when you download films, TV series etc to your devices, rather than go to the cinema

home-working / working from home = when you don’t go into your place of work
“Are you home-working at the moment?”
“We’ve been working from home since March.”
(Don’t confuse this word with “housework” – the jobs you do to keep your house clean, or “homework” – the exercises you get from school.)

video-conferencing = when you use Zoom (or another service) to have work meetings
“Video-conferencing companies have made a lot of profit this year.”

contactless = when you pay by something just by swiping your card, and not using your PIN code
“Can I pay by contactless?”

Political And Environmental Changes

wildfire = when a fire burns in the countryside
“Wildfires raged out of control across Australia and California.”

Brexit = when Great Britain left the European Union
“Brexit talks ended with a deal on Christmas Eve.”

Black Lives Matter = a movement originating in the killing of a Black man by the US police
“The Black Lives Matter movement is raising awareness of racial inequality.”

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