18 December, 2020
“A year that has left us speechless”. That’s how the Oxford English Dictionary is defining 2020.
The OED traditionally selects a “word of the year” to reflect the mood of the past twelve months (family favourites include the only too memorable “omnishambles” from 2012 and the strangely nostalgic “simples” from 2009). But in 2020, writers agreed, that felt like an impossible task.
Instead they have published Words of an Unprecedented Year: a lexicography of the language that characterised this strange year. From “lockdown” and “key workers” to “unmute” (a phrase many of us at Good Business would be happy to never hear again), the writers note the “hyper-speed at which the English-speaking world amassed a new collective vocabulary relating to the coronavirus”, and how quickly this became “a core part of the language”.
It’s clear that our unprecedented circumstances have led to unprecedented linguistic shifts. But 2020 has also shown that the reverse is true. The words we use can and do shape the world around us. The surge in usage of “Black Lives Matter” was in part a response to the murder of George Floyd in May, but it was also a demand: one that united activists across the world in a shared cry for change.
So, much as we love the OED, we don’t want 2020 to leave us speechless. Instead, in our final Friday 5 of the year, we’re sharing four words with you that we hope will define 2021. Here’s hoping that we might even exchange a few with you in person next year …
Merry Christmas, and we’ll see you in January.
Word of the year #1:
The lightest element in the periodic table. Most abundant chemical substance in the universe. And maybe, just maybe, the solution to the world’s energy needs.
This year, we’ve been getting excited about the many and varied possibilities of hydrogen. From powering container ships and even aircraft, to heating homes to storing energy generated from renewables until it is needed later, there really are few limits to what this gas can do.
Traditionally, hydrogen generation was a fairly grubby business. “Grey” hydrogen – which is produced by burning fossil fuels – is responsible for 830 million tonnes of CO2 a year. “Green” hydrogen, which uses renewable energy to generate hydrogen by passing water through a device that uses electrolysis to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen (win!) fixes that problem. Earlier this year, the EU committed to 40GW of renewable electrolysis capacity by 2030, with Chile adding another 30GW to the mix. That is against the current global capacity of just 100MW, which means that the cost – which is currently prohibitive – will come down as supply increases.
While it’s possible that we may be a little premature in calling 2021 the year when hydrogen comes to our aid – there are challenges to be overcome before it is a scalable and cost-effective solution, not least the need for significant investment in infrastructure – it’s certainly going to be an increasingly important part of the way in which we meet our energy needs. So even if 2021 won’t be the year when we all start driving hydrogen powered cars, we’re confident that we’ll all be a little more knowledgeable about hydrogen by this time next year.
Word of the year #2:
With a markedly less hectic Christmas than usual looming, the break will be a good time to catch up on reading. And the Good Book Club is back with another recommendation – Morality, by the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
Published as the world locked down, and made even more poignant due to his death several weeks ago, it is nonetheless a timely guide into how our choices impact others around us.
Sacks sees morality as what happens when we realise that other people are real and we take their own needs and claims seriously, even if it places limits on what we are able to do ourselves. And his view is that the world has been moving away from this – in shorthand we have been shifting from a ‘we society’ to an ‘I society.’
But he did see a glimmer of hope in the way the pandemic has been changing the way we view each other. All of a sudden, we have started making choices that might have a negative impact on ourselves (staying at home for weeks on end) because of a sense of responsibility to society at large, and a desire to protect others.
There has been something of a move back to ‘we’. And given how many huge, collective problems we need to solve – from climate change to inequality and beyond – our hope is that this is one of the impacts of the crisis that does stick, in 2021 and beyond. So morality is head of the list for words to embrace next year.
Word of the year #3:
(okay, two words)
Travel has been one of the most restricted, and missed, experiences in 2020.
With so many benefits – from connecting with loved ones to meeting people different from ourselves, putting our emails on the back burner while we soak up new flavours, smells and experiences, prompting inspiration – we cannot wait to get back out there in 2021. But we can’t go back to the way things were and ignore the environmental repercussions of commuter flights, regular minibreaks and biannual long-haul roundtrips.
While we are not flight-shamers, every little helps when our global carbon budget is rapidly declining. Transport-related emissions accounted for 5% of all human-made emissions in 2016, and although emissions per passenger are going down, demand is still predicted to increase by 25% to 2030. That’s equivalent to 1,998 million tonnes of CO2.
So as we tentatively plan holidays for 2021, we’re embracing conscious travel. We’ve written before about individual carbon budgets, that is, a maximum total amount of carbon each person should aim to emit in one year through lifestyle choices. We’re not saying that we should forego international travel altogether, but we should make conscious and informed choices about the travel that we do take. That may mean reducing short-haul minibreaks and saving your travel carbon budget for one special holiday. Or it may mean organising that trip to Scotland you’ve been meaning to take for years. Or perhaps take advantage of new opportunities such as the night trains that will link 13 major cities across Europe over the next few years, meaning you can go from Paris to Vienna over a good night’s sleep.
Anywhere is better than another day at home after this year!
Word of the year #4:
After Mark our word. In 12 months’ time the word that will have been on everyone’s lips for 2021 will be: IRL.
IRL, as those of you au fait with internet lingo will know, stands for In Real Life. It is used in opposition to things that are virtual, and synonyms include “in meatspace” (as opposed to cyberspace).
We very much hope that 2021 will be all about IRL.
The first thing will be meeting people IRL. Zoom has been invaluable for keeping in touch with friends and family, but we can’t wait to ditch it. Particularly for social occasions, virtual conferencing serves a functional purpose that can’t replicate the joy and energy of seeing friends across the table. And for work, nothing can replace talking to people face-to-face. The few opportunities we have had this year to speak to non pixelated partners and clients have been a delight. Let’s hope 2021 can mark the restarting of an IRL norm.
Next on the list will be events, particularly live music, theatre and cinema. We had the disappointment of a company trip to see the marvellous Paraorchestra cancelled this summer, so that’s a must-see, alongside taking in the plays and shows that surround us in our Soho office. It’s easy to forget just how different live music IRL is from listening in your kitchen. The cacophony of sound of the orchestra tuning up, the thrill of the band walking out on stage, the ringing in your ears after the gig. Perhaps the mosh pit is more of a 2022 thing..?
So here’s to seeing all of you IRL in 2021. We can’t wait.