The Wordsmyth educational mission is to foster awareness of how words work in communication, and our WOTY nominations this year have drawn attention to the way words work in society.  This has been such an extraordinary year—bringing many new words and concepts to our attention—that Oxford Dictionaries couldn’t choose one word as their word of the year.

We are pleased with the responses to our nomination of 10 words. But if you haven’t voted yet, please vote soon. Our voting period ends on Dec. 15, 2020.

When you see some of the comments people have made, you will want to add your voice. So… here is a selection of the comments supporting the choice of each of our WOTY nominations.

climate Change

It is a perfect metaphor for a too-often conflictual relationship between science and politics. Scientists make measurements and say “Watch out, the climate is changing”;, then predict possible outcomes based on current mathematical models. Politicians project scientists’ recommendations onto their electoral base and then, depending on the magnitude of the estimated loss of consensus, become either stark negationists or vociferous supporters.

contact tracing

I chose this word because i’ve been quarantined twice this year so i’ve been out of school almost as much as i’ve been in school.

essential worker

Our media and educational system often praise people who have jobs that are powerful, even if they don’t make a significant contribution to society. For example, people who inherit wealth or Wall Street stock traders often make millions of dollars without having significant knowledge, moral virtue, or a valuable skill. Workers who have knowledge, virtue and skill often go unrecognized and unappreciated, because they don’t have power. Calling them “essential” can make us more aware of this injustice.


Thousands of working people have been in furlough in this Covid-19 year.


Heroes make many selfless decisions and sacrifices to protect others. “Ordinary people” now find themselves living in uncertain and dangerous times among the pandemic and the political landscape of division. Trusting instincts and science, unsuspecting people have stepped up to become front-line healthcare soldiers, vaccine volunteers, quarantined nursing home residents, essential workers (grocery shoppers, tradespeople, small business owners, etc.), First Responders, neighbors, friends and family members who social distance, wear a mask, and patronize threatened local small businesses, are the heroes of 2020.


The real patriots have come out to support the country and not destroy and loot it.


So many people have been quarantined or know someone who has been this year due to the pandemic (which would have been my first choice for WOTY).


It is at the heart of many of our problems including higher COVID-19 mortality rates for Blacks. There is a lack of understanding about what ot is and how it operates, particularly at the systemic level. It drove protests across the country both on the Left (against it) and on the Right (for it, though they’d deny that). A lot of people think it’s an overt act and not a way of life or way of thinking.

Social distancing

Although several other words have taken on significance this year, they are generally familiar and could be or have been applied to several years…. I chose “social distancing” as a term that, I believe, was coined for the pandemic (though maybe not), has a very clearly defined meaning, and that represents a substantial burden and painful experience of 2020.

Other words on this list reflect the unique stress the Covid pandemic put on the world, but this introduced a new concept we are all acutely aware of now.


Saying that “structural” change  is needed points to deeper changes than just changing attitudes or even policies. We have begun to talk about changing our institutions, not just our policies – and hopefully making them more “democratic”. There are Republicans and Democrats who want more democracy.