Augustana English and Journalism Faculty, Peer Writing Tutors Select 2020 Words of the Year

Augustana English and journalism faculty have chosen doomscrolling — a social media and news-reading practice — as the 2020 Word of the Year. In December, tutors in the university’s Writing Center chose Say Their Names for 2020. 

The English and journalism faculty had little difficulty agreeing this year as they say doomscrolling “ties together the horrors of the pandemic, quarantine, police violence and the political spectacle with the enormous emotional toll all of these took on our psyches. And the word neatly unites the sensation of needing to know but dreading to know.”

Augustana Associate Professor of English and Journalism and Director of the Writing Center Dr. Daniel Gerling said, “This was a first. Normally we spend a good hour debating and scouring the Urban Dictionary to find out what Netflix and chill or yeet mean. This year’s nominated words had fewer neologisms of our students’ generation and more words related to Covid, the election and the era of the quarantine. Granted, WAP, simp and sus needed a little explanation by the younger faculty. And Say Their Names was a tempting choice given the power it had on social media to draw attention to the continuing racial disparities and violence perpetrated against people of color. Zoomer was also tempting given the hundreds of hours we’ve spent on Zoom since April and the staying power Zoomer might have to define this generation of students.”

Tutors in the Writing Center say their 2020 Word of the Year is a phrase popularized as a hashtag to accompany social media posts (#SayTheirNames). While not a word per se, the Writing Center says the phrase and hashtag operates as lexeme, or a construct where a group of words has a shared meaning as a unit (Oxford English Dictionary). The Writing Center felt that the phrase “encapsulates the persistence and the resistance in 2020.”

Augustana graduate student Josh Barrows said, “Members (of the Writing Center) discussed how power was an important factor in determining the Word of the Year for 2020. Power is an important consideration in 2020 because this year has left many feeling powerless with the COVID-19 pandemic, a presidential election and systemic racism resulting in the unjust injury and murder of people of color by police. Say Their Names holds power. It is, at its core, a call to action: used as a verbal landmark in the protest of police brutality to bring people together and show support for the black community and the Black Lives Matter movement.”

The use of #SayTheirNames, #SayHisName, and #SayHerName hashtags spiked on Twitter in the summer of 2020, starting in June, correlating with the reaction to George Floyd’s death and all three of these hashtags have been used consistently and abundantly since then.

Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster choose pandemic and the American Dialect Society chose Covid as the 2020 Word of the Year. Oxford English Dictionary opted out of choosing a single word.


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