2020 Word of the Year is “Covid”

In a selection that was held virtually for the first time ever, “Covid” was chosen as Word of the Year (2020) by the American Dialect Society in its annual vote. It was the 30th anniversary of the society’s original Word of the Year vote in December 1990. While the selection is typically held in person at the society’s annual meeting, this time the event was conducted as a webinar open to all who were interested in attending via Zoom. More than three hundred attendees took part in the deliberations and voting.

Presiding at the Dec. 17 voting session was Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

“A year ago, the word Covid didn’t even exist, and now it has come to define our lives in 2020,” Zimmer said. “The selection recognizes how ubiquitous the term has become, from the time that the name for the disease caused by novel coronavirus was dubbed Covid-19 by the World Health Organization back in February. That was quickly clipped to Covid, which then appeared in phrases like Covid crisis, Covid relief, and Covid vaccine – and even Covid baking, Covid hair, and covidiot. It has become a stand-in for the entire pandemic and the societal impacts that we’ll be experiencing for years to come.”

Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.

The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion.

Members in the 131-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead, they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.

Read the full press release, including all winners, candidates, and vote tallies for all candidates.

All previous years’ winners are listed here.