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From COVIdiots To Doomscrolling To Zoom Bombing: The Words We Learned In 2020

From maskne to social distancing, 2020 was a gift to our vocabularies.
From superspreaders to the "before times," a lot of new words and phrases made their way into our vocabularies this year.
Getty/Mel Woods
From superspreaders to the "before times," a lot of new words and phrases made their way into our vocabularies this year.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “pandemic” is the 2020 word of the year. chose “unprecedented.”

That’s all a bit bland, don’t you think? 2020 was the year that “quaran-” became a prefix (see: quarantimes, quarantini, quaranteam), and new words were concocted to define our social media habits. We’ve invented a whole new pandemic lexicon that would have made absolutely no sense a year ago.

The Oxford English Dictionary agreed, ultimately opting not to name a word of the year because there were just too darn many to choose from.

“What words best describe 2020? A strange year? A crazy year? A lost year?” the organization wrote in its annual report.

WATCH: “Pandemic” named word of the year. Story continues below.

“Though what was genuinely unprecedented this year was the hyper-speed at which the English-speaking world amassed a new collective vocabulary relating to the coronavirus, and how quickly it became, in many instances, a core part of the language.”

Imagine telling someone you were going to partake in some doomscrolling after a quick quarantini break with some of your bubble over Zoom, or that you were applying for CERB as a COVIDiot rally took place on your street.

Our vocabularies grew a lot in 2020.

Here are some of the most memorable additions to the English language this year.


The term was popularized by Canadian journalist Karen K. Ho, whose daily reminders to “stop doomscrolling” became a comfort of the pandemic. Doomscrolling refers to the act of mindlessly scrolling social media as the news cycle churns ever forward. If you’ve sat in bed at 2 a.m. illuminated by the dark glow of your phone as you thumbed through Twitter, afraid of missing the next twist or turn of daily events, congrats: you’re a doomscrolling pro.

WATCH: What is doomscrolling? Story continues below.

Before Times:

Lovingly used to refer to history before the pandemic. You know, the times when we all attended busy weddings or karaoke parties and shared food and drinks without a care in the world. Simpler times. B.C. (Before Covid.) Here’s looking forward to the After Times.


Right in the middle of those is the quarantimes, used often to refer to when your area was most locked down, particularly in March and April. During the quarantimes, we all got really into sourdough, spent a lot of time working out from home and experiencing “Tiger King” together.


What’s lockdown without a little pandemic happy hour? Liquor stores across Canada saw increased traffic as people spent a more time at home drinking and commiserating. When it comes to making your own quarantini, let Ina Garten guide the way.


Speaking of quarantines, the idea of being “in quarantine” — whether you actually were or not — grew in 2020. Technically, quarantine is a strict process of isolation to prevent the spread of a virus like COVID-19. But colloquially it came to define local lockdowns, requirements to self-isolate after being a close contact of a case, or simply the state of existing during the pandemic.


Whether it was our close immediate household or 10 close friends, the definition of who and what our “bubble” of close contacts should be changed throughout the pandemic and across the provinces. The reassuring refrain of “oh they’re in my bubble” became a familiar one across 2020.


An unfortunate addition to the canon of figures rejecting scientific advice in 2020 (see also, anti-vaxxers) was the anti-masker. While they exist on a spectrum ranging from skeptics to full-blown conspiracy theorists, they are united by a refusal to follow public health guidance.


Much like the anti-masker, the COVIdiot is someone who purposefully ignores public health guidance. The COVIdiot however, is often more of a bumbling figure than an organized or malicious one. Think of people holding large weddings right now or booking a cruise for January.


Millions of Canadians applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and millions more (including the reporters and editors in our newsroom) spent weeks debating exactly how to pronounce it. Curb? Serb? Cee ee are bee?

While the soft “c” ultimately won out, Canadians won’t forget the four-letter benefit that kept many afloat during the spring and summer The CERB’s successors, the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) just don’t have the same ring to them.


This is actually a technical term used by epidemiologists to refer to events that lead to a large amount of disease transmission. But it’s also wormed its way into our slang, whether that’s accusing Santa Claus of being the ultimate superspreader, or casting judgey side-eyes at a friend’s uncomfortably large wedding photos.

From social distancing to CERB, our lexicon grew a lot in 2020.
d3sign via Getty Images
From social distancing to CERB, our lexicon grew a lot in 2020.

Social Distancing:

Also known as just plain old distancing, I doubt that in January any of us expected this phrase to be such a big part of our collective lexicon. From signs in businesses, to public health orders to social media posts, social distancing defined our lives in 2020. That “safe” distance of six feet or two metres became such an ingrained part of our lives, it’s going to be weird to stand in line close to people again when this is over.


Who knew that wearing a protective face covering for the majority of the day, often made of not super breathable material, would lead to a sweaty face and pimples and skin irritation? Thankfully, we found some solutions for it.

Zoom Bombing:

Much of life in 2020 was conducted over video platforms like Google Hangouts or Zoom. And that led to Zoom bombing, the practice of hacking into or interrupting a Zoom call and causing chaos. While some Zoom bombings were actively nefarious, sometimes it was as simple as your kids yelling from the background while you were on an important work call.

WATCH: “Zoom bombing” on the rise. Story continues below.

Speaking Moistly:

Who can forget Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promoting mask-wearing by saying they help prevent “speaking moistly.” The phrase was adapted into a song, several covers and even a guitar tutorial. We’ll never salivate the same.

Pfizer and Moderna:

Like the hero swooping in at the beginning of the third act, two high-profile vaccine approvals (Moderna still pending) signalled the end of this wretched year and hopefully an optimistic look towards 2021.

With needles in arms already as December draws to a close, the name on everyone’s lips was Pfizer, with sister Moderna close behind. Truly the “it” girls of 2020.

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