What Do We Call It?

I’m rarely at a loss for words. That’s changed during this, um, “time” we’re in. Know what I mean?

Since last spring, whenever the topic of, er, “this situation” arises in conversation with clients and colleagues, I find myself grasping for the right – polite — term to use. In my mind’s eye I can see the string of words parading down the pipeline, and then a gap appears. I panic; my mind races to fill the imminent void with something clear but vague, positive but obviously concerning a very sad thing. By the way, as is the case in many industries “these days,” the topic comes up constantly in mine.

I suppose I could stick with “COVID” or “the pandemic.” I’m no fan of the needlessly specific “COVID-19,” “novel coronavirus” and especially the “novel coronavirus pandemic.” These terms feel cold and naked, especially after eight months.

Then there are the physical realities conveyed – shockingly – with words like “lockdown” and “self-isolation.” But since not all countries or localities are employing the same methods, these aren’t apt. “Crisis” seems reasonable if scary, until you have to clarify which crisis you’re referencing.

For a few weeks early on I dallied with “Time of Corona,” trying to sound scholarly, as though anyone would believe I ever read Love in the Time of Cholera. I also employed “Age of Corona,” twisting a Paul Simon lyric. The actual words to describe Rosie are “the queen of Corona.” Serious ear worm btw.

“The new normal” gained traction in many circles surprisingly early. Because I work with a lot of tech clients, this is not a novel term; we’ve been flogging it since before Google existed. To me it’s come to mean that every day is essentially a new normal, as in, “looks like this morning’s rain is the new normal.” Plus, this “thing” is no longer new, but it is normal.

Adjectives can add color to the vagary of time: “difficult times,” “challenging days,” “period of unpleasantness.” Perhaps too much poesy for a business talk.

We also have to consider that “what’s happening” is different for everyone. While “the virus” has laid a heavy blanket over top most of the world – and directly affected millions who’ve suffered — people are still dealing with just the rigors of everyday life, only intensified. The loss of a job, a career, a sense of value and security. Hurricanes, wildfires, killer hornets, oh my. Personally, I lost my Mother (not COVID-related, mercifully) and an aging dog named Rampage. And yes, I feel I’ve lost my freedom, but not in the patriotic sense.

Here’s what I’ve come to call it: “2020.” Because that’s what it is. It’s a lot of other things, but all of it is 2020.

Ten years from now we’ll still call it 2020, for the time our world changed forever. With all due respect to 9/11, 2020 hit everyone and everything directly: economies, education, transportation, travel, trade, real estate, the food supply, housing, science, healthcare, religion, culture, art, media, community. Am I leaving anything out? Many of these concerns will never be the same, though some might undergo positive reform.

On a lighter, pettier note, 2020 has long been in marketers’ sights: we launched programs years ago that were to culminate with clarity this year: “Come 2020, we’ll finally see our company’s true vision!” Didn’t happen, at least not as intended.

Most of us gained a different kind of clarity in 2020: what’s inside. We spent a lot of time inside, connecting with and appreciating loved ones like never before. We faced isolation that forced us to look inside and cope with the “difficult days” and this “period of unpleasantness.” We got crazier, stronger, fatter, sadder, wiser. We took up hobbies or wished we had. Some of us revisited past vices or reveled in new ones.

Like I said, next year, it’ll still be 2020; no reason to pre-sully the name of a year with big potential. I just hope 2021 doesn’t unleash some new, even more sinister global catastrophe that has us searching for words to describe its fresh brand of depravity. Words will surely fail me.

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