A guide to the words that painfully and perfectly summarise 2020

Yes, 2020 has been a very ‘unprecedented’ year. Dominic Knight humorously observes the words that have defined the new decade in his new book, 2020 Dictionary.

No one would argue when we say 2020 has been a YEAR. Bushfires, floods, recession, and a global pandemic that’s pushed humans, naturally social creatures, indoors and isolated from everyone else.

Author Dominic Knight has written a hilarious record of 2020 and everything we’ve learned. This is an edited extract.


Short for ‘before coronavirus’, a time so unattainably distant in our memories that it may as well have been before the birth of Christ. It’s unclear what the initialism for after the coronavirus would be— perhaps ACV, or if we want to adapt the standard year-based acronym, ADV for ‘after this damn virus’.

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A popular exercise class at Australian gyms, barre’s ballet-inspired fitness routines proved highly confusing to Scott Morrison, who mispronounced the word amusingly during the March press conference when he announced that barre classes, like other activities at the gym— and indeed, other activities in general— were cancelled.


Nobody could sleep in 2020, so much so that experts began using this term for the destruction that COVID-19 wreaked on our body clocks.

Dalgona coffee

In March and April, this became the most-searched variety of coffee on Google.

Dalgona coffee is a whipped, milky coffee that resembles a Korean toffee-like sweet called ‘dalgona’, but also has the virtue of looking like a barista-made café drink despite being made with crappy instant coffee.


The inevitable consequence of extended isolation with one’s family, rates of marital breakdown spiked in some places during 2020, as many couples burned through several decades’ worth of conversations in just a few short weeks, and the absence of other things to care about made us overly invested in whose turn it was to take out the bins.


The activity of endlessly scrolling through sad, depressing or troubling news updates, even though doing so just makes the reader more miserable. This was a popular activity all year as the news headlines transitioned seamlessly from bushfires to floods to the pandemic to systematic racism to the recession and back.

Exotic, Joe

The subject of Netflix’s popular Tiger King documentary provided the world with some welcome distraction for a few weeks in March, as we marvelled at his unconventional three-way marriage, bizarre presidential campaign, and utter self-belief despite his obvious ignorance about how to properly run a zoo, let alone anything else, until he was jailed for procuring a hitman.

Exotic, it turns out, is not great at either keeping animals alive, or making humans dead.

Hand sanitiser

For several months in 2020, this microbe-killing ethanol gel replaced vintage cognac as the world’s scarcest and most expensive alcoholic liquid, even though soap and water work even more effectively against viruses, and everyone was stuck at home with easy access to both of those things.

International travel

Something we used to do all the time, back when we weren’t horrified by the idea of breathing in the spittle of strangers sitting mere centimetres away from us for hours on end.


The inevitable corporeal result of spending weeks stuck indoors, communicating with the outside world via videoconference— that is, getting fat. Also known as ‘COVID curves’, the weight gains we noticed when stepping on the scales or looking in the mirror gave us all fresh determination to exercise extra hard just as soon as COVID-19 is under control— whenever that might be.


A generic term, invented by millennials, for the kind of privileged, entitled, middle-aged white woman who asks to see the manager, or to have an urgent parent-teacher conference about why their lazy child got a poor mark for an assignment.

P2/N95 mask

The most effective protection against 2020, as it can effectively block virus particles, bushfire smoke, tear gas and identification on CCTV during a protest. Usually readily and cheaply available from chemists and hardware stores, in 2020 they would disappear from shelves for long periods, becoming unavailable to both the first responders and hospital workers who desperately needed them.


The most-used word of 2020, as we all said, ‘Are you on mute?’, ‘Am I on mute?’, ‘Take yourself off mute’, ‘Hey, idiot, you’ve still got mute on’, ‘We can hear your kids, can you please mute?’, and ‘There’s a weird echo, can everyone else go on mute?’ at the start of every single video-conference, all year long. It was enough to make us want to put everyone on mute.


No longer a meaningful term.

New normal

The suggestion that a particular state of affairs will continue, providing people with some sense of stability and continuity. In 2020, any situation described this way turned out to be wishful thinking shortly afterwards, as everything changed yet again.

New abnormal

More appropriate for 2020.


One of several iso-cocktail puns that did the rounds this year, as part of what became the International Year of Copious Drinking. The best recipe includes gin, a hint of vermouth, an olive, a toothpick and a large quantity of absolutely crushing loneliness.


The preferred baking option for some of the more fashionable inner-city types who embraced the 2020 baking craze, as they decided that producing regular, unsour bread was unthinkable when a more hipster option was available.


A mythical, far-off time when we tell ourselves everything will be better, despite there being no rational reason to expect the year not to be even worse than 2020.

It might well be, in fact, given the likelihood of COVID-19 mutating into another, potentially more contagious form, and worse still, the return of the Eurovision Song Contest.


A short-form video-sharing app that was one of the most popular ways of killing time in 2020. Though much of the content on the site involves pranks and tricks, arguably the greatest trick involving TikTok is that the service was originally owned by a Chinese company, leading to national security concerns about the amount of data it collects, and what the Chinese Communist Party might be doing with it.


2020 saw unprecedented bushfires, unprecedented lockdowns, unprecedented protests, an unprecedented economic crisis, an unprecedented pandemic (except for all the historical precedents we ignored), and unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’.


Working from home. Once, workers claimed they were doing this when they wanted to have a cruisy day on the couch, but in 2020, many of us were forced to do this full-time as a public health measure.

These workers kept up the long tradition of being unproductive at home, because, as science has proven, it’s impossible to work all day when you’re only a few metres away from your bed, couch and fridge, especially when that fridge has alcohol in it.


A video conferencing platform which, thanks to its relative ease of use and 40-minute free plan, became the year’s hottest tech product. Zoom offers the multi-platform convenience and ridiculously long meeting URLs of corporate products like WebEx and GoToMeeting to the general public, at the cost of security so poor that at the start of the pandemic, private Zoom conversations were frequently interrupted by hackers.


Sleeping was by far the best way to spend 2020. It’s just that the year was so excruciatingly stressful that very few of us could.

Edited extract from 2020 Dictionary by Dominic Knight, Allen & Unwin $29.99 – available in all bookstores.