The 20 Phrases That Defined 2020

Happy Blursday! Now quit doomscrolling, grab a quarantini and please keep social distancing.

Happy Blursday!(不管今天周几都要快乐哦!)别再doomscrolling(末日刷新)了,来一杯quarantini(隔离马天尼),敬请保持社交距离(social distancing)。

Imagine explaining that sentence to yourself in December 2019.


This year has given us scores of new words, phrases, expressions and metaphors. Some are new to the popular vernacular, like quarantine pod, while others are just newly relevant after long histories as specialized terms, like contact tracing. Some are technical, like super-spreader event and aerosol droplets; some are packed with cultural meaning, like systemic racism and panic shopping; and others still, like maskne and walktails, are just goofy little turns of phrase that let us find a drop of joy in this disastrous year. But all of them serve a purpose in these most uncertain times.

这一年给了我们许多新词、短语、表达方式和隐喻。有些是流行语中的新词,例如quarantine pod(隔离荚);另一些是由来已久的专门术语,直到最近才被人熟知——如contact tracing(密接追踪)。有一些词是技术性的,例如super-spreader event(超级传播者事件)和aerosl droplets(气溶胶);有些充满文化意义,例如systemic racism(系统性种族主义)和panic shopping(恐慌采购);而其他词,例如maskne(口罩痘痘)和walktails(街尾酒),则是在灾难重重的一年里博人一笑的搞怪短语。但所有这些词语在当今最不确定的时期都产生了某种作用。

“What’s fascinating about this year is that so many of these words have gone from being words that we had maybe heard of and we might have used very occasionally, but they’ve now gone to basically inform almost every single conversation that we have,” said Fiona McPherson, a new words editor at the Oxford English Dictionary. In her more than 20 years with the O.E.D., she said, “I can’t think of anything that has been similar.”

“今年非常有意思的是,这些词中有很多已经不再是我们可能听说、偶尔一用的词了,它们几乎已经充斥在我们所有的对话里,”在《牛津英语词典》(Oxford English Dictionary)任职超过20年的新词编辑菲奥娜·麦克弗森(Fiona McPherson)说。她说,“我想不出任何类似的情况。”

The sheer breadth of words that were popularized this year — everything from medical jargon to social media-friendly shorthand — was particularly unusual, Ms. McPherson said. And for the first time since 2004, when Oxford Languages, the publisher of the O.E.D., started choosing a Word of the Year, it declined to pick just one.

麦克弗森说,今年流行词汇的范围之广尤其不寻常——从医学术语到社交媒体适用的简写。牛津语言(Oxford Languages)——《牛津英语词典》的出版者——自2004年开始每年选择年度单词,而今年它拒绝只选一个。

We couldn’t pick one, either. But here are the 20 words and phrases we think capture what it felt like to be alive in this unprecedented year of our quar, 2020.


Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter:黑人的命也是命

We asked Patrisse Cullors, co-founder and executive director of Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, to share her experience with the movement in 2020.

我们邀请黑人的命也是命全球网络基金会(Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation)联合创始人兼执行董事帕特里塞·卡勒斯(Patrisse Cullors)分享她在2020年开展这项运动的经验。

Every new year brings curiosity and excitement. There is often a collective commitment from people to shed the toxic habits we developed the year before, while pushing to unlock the door of possibilities for the year to come. But not a single human being in the entire world would have predicted what came in 2020. The year where Black communities were ravaged by the twin pandemics: state violence and Covid-19. A year in which Black people and our allies rallied around the globe to reckon with 400 years of racial terror.


These three words, Black Lives Matter, resurrected yet again to help remind the world that our fight for racial justice must happen through mass protests, electoral justice and the fight to defund and ultimately abolish the state of policing, and imprisonment as we know it. 2020 was not a year we all could have prepared for but it was a year that pushed us to become stronger, demand more from our elected officials and fight for the lives of Black people like we have never done before.




The passage of time itself became seemingly unreliable this year, as some days felt like a week while some months flew by in an instant. This quickly became a go-to Twitter meme as the combination of a relentless news cycle mixed with the droll, repetitive reality of life in lockdown, giving existence in 2020 a Groundhog Day-esque quality. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York made this a recurring bit in his daily coronavirus briefings, and our friends at The Washington Post even launched a newsletter called “What Day Is It?”

今年,时间的流逝似乎变得不可靠了,有些日子感觉像一个星期那么长,而有些月份又在一瞬间过去。这个词很快就在Twitter上爆红,它将无穷尽的新闻周期和隔离状态下滑稽、重复的生活现实混合在一起,给2020年的存在带来一种土拨鼠日一般的质感。纽约州州长安德鲁·M·库默(Andrew M.Cuomo)在他的每日例行新冠病毒吹风会上反复提到这一点,我们在《华盛顿邮报》的朋友甚至推出了一份时事通讯,名为《What Day Is It?》(今天周几来着?)。

Circuit breaker

Circuit breaker:熔断机制

“Markets Spiral as Globe Shudders Over Virus.” So declared a blaring headline atop page A1 of The New York Times on March 10, the day following a drop in the stock market so steep that a so-called “circuit breaker” — an automatic halt in trading after a major decline — kicked in. It was the first since 1997, and over the next nine days it would happen three more times. Some $5 trillion in stock market wealth disappeared by March 10.


For wealthier Americans, the crisis was short-lived: The markets began to bounce back as early as May following the reopening of businesses across the country. That recovery steadily continued through the summer, and, after a few major drops in the fall, the markets hit all-time highs in November.


But that’s just half the story — or, more precisely, about 10 percent of it, which is the percentage of households that own more than 87 percent of all stock as of earlier this year.


For everyone else, the economic picture is much more grim: There are still some 10 million fewer jobs than there were in February; employers last month added far fewer jobs than would be needed for a speedy recovery; some jobs may just never come back; and officials have warned that the pandemic may make the already-crippling inequality in the U.S. even worse.


Related word: K-shaped recovery

相关词汇:K-shaped recovery(K型复苏)

Contact tracing

Contact tracing:密接追踪

Whom did you see and when did you see them? That’s the essence of this term, long familiar to anyone in public health but new to the public consciousness. In the early days of the pandemic, South Korea gained attention for its aggressive — and highly successful — contact tracing program, while the United States continues to shrug at the concept.




The catchall, platform-agnostic term for consuming bad news or information you know is detrimental to your mental health and wellness yet being unable to stop. “I think the doomscrolling thing validated a lot of people’s experiences,” said the journalist Karen Ho, a.k.a. “Doomscrolling Reminder Lady,” who helped popularize the term with her eight-months-running nightly Twitter reminders to put the phone away and get to sleep. “It’s easy to feel like, ‘Am I overreacting to everything going on?’” she said. “At night people would scroll and be like, ‘Oh, things are really bad, and if they’re not bad for me they’re bad for other people’ and feel really helpless.”


Related word: Joyscrolling


Essential workers

Essential workers:必要行业工作者

By early April, much of the country was under stay-at-home orders, marooned inside and safely out of the virus’s reach … unless, of course, you happened to work at a grocery store, a gas station, an airport, a hotel, a food processing plant, a restaurant, a convenience store, the U.S.P.S., a child-care center, a farm, a funeral home, a bike repair shop, an auto body shop, for a delivery app or any of the dozens of other types of businesses that were given permission to remain open during lockdowns.


“We are not essential. We are sacrificial,” Sujatha Gidla, an M.T.A. conductor in New York, wrote in an essay in May.

“我们不是必要的。我们是可牺牲的。”纽约大都会运输署(MTAS)的乘务员苏亚塔·吉德拉(Sujatha Gidla)今年5月在一篇文章中写道。

Flatten the curve

Flatten the curve:压平曲线

It was back to middle-school math: To prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, the country needed to reduce the overall number of virus cases and stop the exponential increase in infections.


After nationwide lockdowns, we were generally successful at flattening the curve of the first surge: Confirmed cases peaked at around 33,000 in one day in mid-April and slowly declined until mid-June. Then the summer surge hit, causing that previously flat line to shoot upward for a month until reaching a second, higher peak in mid-July of about 75,000 cases in a day. After a seasonal low of about 25,000 cases on one day in early September, cases have been on the rise ever since, reaching a recent high of about 230,000 in one day earlier this month.


Related words: Disinfect; “Wear a mask”; 6 feet; ventilator

相关词汇:disinfect(消毒)、“wear a mask”(“佩戴口罩”)、6 feet(6英尺)、ventilator(呼吸机)

Frontline workers

Frontline workers:一线工作者

Danielle Ofri is a primary care doctor at Bellevue Hospital in New York and the author of “When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error.” Dr. Ofri gave me my coronavirius test when I became the first Times employee to test positive, and I turned out to be her first positive case. I’ve invited her to share her experience as a frontline worker during the pandemic.

丹妮尔·欧弗里(Danielle Ofri)是纽约贝尔维尤医院(Bellevue Hospital)的初级保健医生,著有《当我们造成伤害——一名面对医疗失误的医生》(When We Do Harm: a doctor confronting ts Medical Error)一书。欧弗里为我做了新冠检测,当时我成了时报第一个阳性员工,结果也成了她的第一个阳性病例。我邀请她分享了在疫情期间作为一线工作者的经历。

New York City’s Covid-19 surge in the spring made our hospital feel like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces were frantically re-scrambled each day to accommodate yet another set of unprecedented circumstances. On the other hand, it also felt oddly ordinary: In health care, you go to work every day, and your mandate is whatever your patients bring that day. Which is why the “hero” appellation felt so awkward to most of us. Nurses, doctors, technicians, aides and housekeepers surely have put in heroic hours during the pandemic, placing themselves and their families at risk. But we do it every day as patients grapple with the vulnerability that illness engenders. We do it every day when they need to unload their worries and their grief.

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