Some Favourite Words of 2020

Not pandemic or woke or clickbait or any of the over-used words that made it to the top of lexicographers’ lists this year. My favourite words of 2020 are those words that have entered my consciousness and left a footprint. Here are just a few.

Princessation – This neologism describes the process of making a girl or young woman feel like a princess, encouraging femininity. I ran into it while reading about a recent study conducted by the Fawcett Society on the dangers in exposing children to gender stereotyping. While the act of princessation has been going on for centuries, the naming of this process is significant. It efficiently sums up behaviours and words and colours them with a negative tint. I think we are making progress.

Blursday – One of these pandemic-inspired words, it refers to the feeling of one day blurring into the next. Working without our usual timetables and having a paucity of choice, doing much of the same thing from the same rooms day in and day out, many of us have no idea what day of the week it is.

Dietrologia – It’s an Italian loanword that pops up now and again in English. I stumbled across it in a short story by Paul Theroux, published in The New Yorker. Dictionary definitions say it refers to hidden motivations behind some action or understood reality. In Italian it’s often used in political journalism and when talking about conspiracy theories. What I find interesting about this word is how it is used in Italian, sometimes on its own, other times with fare (to make). Along with denoting conspiracy theories, it also means ‘second-guessing,’ ‘raking up old history’ or for telling someone their logic is ‘backwards.’ These multiple uses pack conspiracy theories with the connotations they often deserve.

Murderable – I ran into this self-explanatory and nasty word this past month in an article in The Guardian about the reporting of fatal domestic abuse. The author of this piece claimed that some newspapers referred to victims of fatal domestic abuse as ‘murderable,’ which of course sounds horrible and is not surprising given the high prevalence of misogyny in our society. I was going to write about this word, making the point that it nearly always refers to women – an educated guess.  Yet, after I searched two corpora of written British English, I only found two places where this word was used.  In 1920 D.H. Lawrence (some credit him with coining the word) used it in Women in Love: ‘And a man who is murderable is a man who in a profound if hidden lust desires to be murdered.’  The other place this word appeared was in The Guardian article where I found it in the first place. I also searched a couple of websites of the UK’s most popular tabloid papers – nothing.  ‘Murderable’ could be one of those words that is usually spoken and rarely written. As a result of this little research activity, this word appears on my list not to make a feminist point but rather as an example of false expectations and assumptions – especially when it comes to language.

And finally – goldfinch – I’ve never seen one, nor could I identify one, until this year when they started to appear in our town and even in our garden. Thanks to Covid-induced lockdowns, fewer cars and less human activity have allowed fauna to thrive and explore places they might not usually go.  This word and the beautiful little creature that it denotes will always remind me ironically of this otherwise dismal year.

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