Oxford Dictionaries drops tradition with 'words of an unprecedented year'

The word wizards couldn't pick just one to sum up 2020.

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Oxford Languages was overwhelmed by 2020 -- just like the rest of us.

Oxford Languages/Screenshot by CNET

If you thought 2020 has been a lot to process, you're not alone. Oxford Dictionaries say this year has left its word watchers both speechless and unable to settle on just one Word of the Year. So for 2020, the Oxford Languages Word of the Year campaign instead crafted an entire report titled Words of an Unprecedented Year. 

Traditionally, Oxford's Word of the Year is a single term chosen to sum up the year-- the mood, character and significance. Previous Words of the Year were "climate emergency" in 2019 and "youthquake" in 2017.

"But in 2020, just like our daily lives, the English language has undergone enormous change, adapting rapidly and repeatedly to world events," Oxford University Press said Monday in a statement

To better encompass 2020, the Words of an Unprecedented Year report examines language themes in detail regarding COVID-19 and words associated with it like coronavirus and lockdown. In addition, the report digs into events like January's bushfires and terms like impeachment, acquittal, mail-in, Brexit and working remotely. The report also examines a year of social movements and counter-movements, such as Black Lives Matter, conspiracy theory and QAnon.  

"I've never witnessed a year in language like the one we've just had," Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Languages, said in the statement. "The team at Oxford were identifying hundreds of significant new words and usages as the year unfolded, dozens of which would have been a slam dunk for Word of the Year at any other time."