La Puma’s 2020 Dictionary: Words of an Unprecedented Year


2020 brought us a global pandemic, a nationwide reckoning with race, a turbulent election season, and scathing evidence of the climate crisis. With the chaos and calamity came the introduction of words and phrases that either took on new meanings or would be completely nonsensical without proper context. Here is La Puma’s 2020 Dictionary: Words of an Unprecedented Year.

Quarantine (noun): a period of isolation aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19; the reason for the end of many social lives but also the reason that more lives have not been lost

Social distancing (noun/verb): staying away from people not in your household; a common practice for people at grocery stores, parks, walking trails, etc.

6 feet (noun): the minimum distance you should keep from other people; the reason that circles were painted on the ground at Dolores Park in San Francisco and other parks around the world; will apparently prevent someone from catching COVID-19 (warning: not foolproof)

Flatten the curve (phrase): slowing the rate of COVID-19 infections so as to not overwhelm hospitals; an elusive goal for many cities/states/countries

Bubble (noun): a select group of friends or family members who socialize in-person; these people agree to only physically get together with each other in order to keep the bubble “airtight”; does not include your best friend who is seeing her cousin who is spending time with her boyfriend who is visiting his grandparents every weekend; for a successful example, see the NBA bubble

“Cute mask!” (phrase): a compliment referring to the newest (and most necessary) accessory trend of 2020

Maskne (noun): a word formed by combining “mask” and “acne”; refers to acne breakouts or skin irritation on a person’s face from (responsibly) wearing a face mask

Anti-maskers (noun): a group of people who refuse to wear masks, despite local mandates and advice from scientific experts; some anti-maskers believe in conspiracy theories, some believe that wearing masks is a violation of their individual rights and liberties, and some believe they are making a political statement; consider, also, anti-vaxxers (those who oppose vaccines)

Toilet paper shortage (noun): a period of time in March and April 2020 (and to a lesser extent, November 2020) in which people panic-bought toilet paper at grocery stores, Costco, etc., leading retailers to impose limits on how many packages each customer could purchase

“When will we be out of the purple tier?” (phrase): a question that refers to the California Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan for loosening and tightening restrictions on activities, based on COVID-19 test positivity in each county; Contra Costa County returned to the purple tier in November 2020 and has remained there since then; a county must be in the less restrictive red tier in order for schools to reopen

Hybrid learning (noun): a combination of in-person and online learning; a reason for contentious debate in many school districts and communities

Zoom fatigue (noun): the feeling of tiredness and burnout that follows hours of Zoom meetings; a condition affecting most students and teachers now that we’ve been in distance learning for almost 5 months

Breakout room (noun): a Zoom feature where people are separated within a meeting; also known as the awkward place on Zoom where students, meant to collaborate on group work, usually mute themselves and turn off their cameras

“I think you’re muted.” (phrase): what you say on Zoom after watching someone’s mouth move for at least 10 seconds without hearing any sound

Drive-by celebration (noun): the 2020 version of graduations, birthday parties, baby showers, and other joyous occasions

Save USPS (noun): a rather odd movement in which people bought packages and stamps to help fund the national postal service

TikTok Ban (noun): a threat by President Trump’s administration that struck fear into the hearts of many Gen Z-ers who had become dependent on the app during quarantine

Anti-racism (noun): action against systemic racism and oppression; what should be the ultimate goal for our society as a whole; the term has existed for years but gained momentum this year with the Black Lives Matter movement; i.e. “It is not enough to be not racist; you must be actively, vocally anti-racist.”

“Why is the sky orange?” (phrase): a question many Bay Area residents asked on September 8 as the sky eerily turned orange amidst California’s worst wildfire season in modern history

Surreal (adjective): the most accurate way to describe 2020, a year marked by a global pandemic, systemic racism, evidence of the climate crisis, the loss of icons (Kobe Bryant, John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alex Trebek, Naya Rivera, Chadwick Boseman, etc.) and over 300,000 Americans, a crazy election, and so much more…