The American Dialect Society Needs Your Help Choosing 2020’s Word of the Year

They're debating whether it should be "the 'rona" or "Zoom."
They're debating whether it should be "the 'rona" or "Zoom." / Anna Shvets, Pexels

Each year, members of the American Dialect Society (ADS) convene for a few days to present new studies, attend panel discussions about language, and vote on the Word of the Year. Though the conference has been canceled due to COVID-19, 2020 will still get its Word of the Year—the organization is holding a virtual vote, and everyone is welcome to participate.

The free online event will take place on Thursday, December 17, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST. When you register, you can nominate up to five words that you think deserve the award. You’re not confined to those found in the dictionary; in fact, your nominations don’t even have to be words. The ADS also accepts “phrases, compounds, catchphrases, hashtags, and other types of brief written or spoken communication,” so acronyms and slang are fair game, too.

If you and your three closest friends are the only ones who use a certain term, however, it might not make the cut—in addition to being “new or newly popular,” nominations should be “widely used” around the country. The general idea is to choose an expression that captures the spirit of the year and reflects the current cultural atmosphere of America.

Looking back through previous winners can help you get a feel for what makes a good Word of the Year. Last year, for example, voters chose “(My) Pronouns,” referencing the now-common practice of asking for someone’s pronouns and including yours in email signatures, social media bios, and similar places. The 2014 winner was “#blacklivesmatter,” marking the first time a Twitter hashtag earned the title. (Incidentally, hashtag itself was 2012’s Word of the Year, and tweet won in 2009.)

You can register for the ADS livestream—and make your nominations—here.