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At a loss for words? Here are the ones that sum up 2020

·13 min read
Words of 2020 illo
Words of 2020 illo

In recent years Brexit has expanded the financial dictionary, but it was coronavirus that provided us with plenty of new terms in 2020. Words come and words go, and some even change meaning as phrases from the past are revived. But the most recent changes in our vocabulary tell the story of this year and summarise the upheaval experienced in these last 12 months.

So ‘Superspreader’ entered the lexicon in 2020 and the pandemic redefined ‘bubbles’. Turkey Twizzlers returned but Yorkshire Energy is gone.  Even the Brexit party is dropping the ‘B’ word. ‘Furloughinggained a new life but alcohol-free Guinness 0.0 came and was quickly withdrawn.

Project Big Picture was the short-lived plan to shrink the Premier League. And 20th Century Fox finally updated its name – to 20th Century Studios. 

Donald Trump called it Chinese snake flu: we called it Covid-19 but officially it is Sars-CoV-2.

Social distancing and self-isolating became watchwords: we obeyed the Rule of Six, stopped to Clap for Carers (and other key workers) and learned of furloughing.

The PM chaired daily C19 meetings and told us to ‘Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ before changing the slogan to ‘Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives’ – and then ‘Hands, Face, Space’.

Boris Johnson used Twitter to promote the Government's 'hands, face, space' coronavirus slogan
Boris Johnson used Twitter to promote the Government's 'hands, face, space' coronavirus slogan

PPE was ordered while Ventilator Challenge UK furnished Nightingale hospitals with medical equipment built by Britain’s manufacturers. England adopted ‘Test & Trace’, Scotland ‘Test & Protect’, and Project Oasis was the MoD’s virus-tracking database.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 authorised lockdowns but a second wave triggered a circuit-breaker – called a firebreak in Wales and ‘locktober’ in the tabloids. Public Health England changed into National Institute for Health Medicine. 

The Great Barrington Declaration advocated herd immunity but AstraZeneca and Oxford University developed ChAdOx1 nCov-19, more snappily termed AZD1222; Russia worked on  Sputnik V but Pfizer’s BNT162b2 vaccine passed the solidarity trial first, followed by Moderna’s mRNA-1273. 

The virus halted United Biscuits’ production of Bath Olivers and health-conscious KFC suspended its ‘finger licking good’ slogan. Non-essential retailers closed but re-opened on Wild Wednesday. Pubs came back on July’s Super Saturday and Chancellor Rishi Sunak paid us to Eat Out to Help Out. 

Treasury

Sajid Javid, dubbed Chino – chancellor in name only – quit before the newly-revived Spring Budget (the election scuppered the autumn 2019 statement) that abolished the ‘tampax tax’ and VAT on digital books – the ‘reading tax’ – while a Quick Fixes Directive should simplify VAT.

Mr Sunak also announced a Green Gas Levy, plastic packaging tax, national bus strategy, the mobile-phone Shared Rural Network, a Balance Sheet Review of Treasury assets, a Public Value Framework, an English Devolution White Paper, a Reforming Regulation Initiative and a £25m Arts Premium for schools – plus a new company, British Technology Investments. 

He also introduced schemes for SME Term Funding; Low-Carbon Heat Support and a recycling External Producer Scheme. And funds: a Pot-hole Fund; Rapid-Charging Fund for electric cars; Nature for Climate Fund; Nature Recovery Network Fund; Natural Environment Impact Fund; Culture Investment Fund, Youth Investment Fund; Single Housing Infrastructure Fund; Brownfield Housing Fund; Building Safety Fund; National Skills Fund; and a Carbon Capture & Storage Infrastructure Fund.

‘We got it done’ was the March budget slogan but coronavirus quickly undid Britain’s finances. - GDP plunged by a record 19.8pc in the second quarter alone.

A Summer Economic Update was followed by the Winter Economy Plan (but again, no autumn budget). The new slogan was ‘Whatever it takes’ and in came bounce-back loans and business-interruption loans plus Local Restrictions Support Grant.  

Britain copied the Kuzarbeit short-working scheme of Germany’s ‘bazooka’ economic stimulus: our kickstart initiatives were a jobs retention scheme, then jobs retention bonus and a quickly-withdrawn jobs support scheme. 

But November’s spending review, acknowledging the economic emergency, launched Restart, a UK Infrastructure Bank, plus a Levelling-up fund and the UK Shared Prosperity fund. 

The Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility provides emergency funding. Project Birch is the bailout plan for strategic firms; Project Speed the PM’s promise to ‘Build back better’. (‘Enjoy summer safely’ was yet another slogan.) And Operation Sleeping Beauty sought to re-open theatres in the ‘new normal’. As V-shaped recovery became W-shaped, the Demos think-tank advocated a People’s Commission on Life after Covid-19. 

While Operation Moonshot is the PM’s mass-testing plan, using Lighthouse Laboratories, Earthshot is Prince William’s £50m green prize. The Sustainable Markets Council is Prince Charles’s environmental venture but Prince Harry had to change Royal Sussex to Archewell following Megxit

Banking

Also dropping its regal moniker, Royal Bank of Scotland Group transformed into NatWest Group, which launched Project Tusk to cut costs and scrapped Bo, its digital bank. Monument is a new digital lender for the well-off and Snoop a mobile app cutting utility bills. Marathon mortgages last beyond retirement; superfunds are consolidated pension funds. PPP Healthcare renamed itself AXA Health.

Facebook rebranded Calibra, the wallet for its Libra cryptocurrency, as Novi. Stablecoins aim to reduce cryptocurrency volatility. Trading started in Royal Mint Physical Gold Securities. Members Exchange, MEMX, is a new New York stock exchange. The Selftrade dealing platform was renamed EQi. Tilney merged with Smith & Williamson to become Tilney, Smith & Williamson. The Peer To Peer Finance Association closed and members formed 36H.

Pollen Street Secured Lending became Alternative Credit Investments and Woodford Patient Capital Trust is now Schroder UK Public Private Trust. Odey Asset Management created Brook Asset Management, renaming its funds as Brook while Crispin Odey set up Odey Inflation Fund. Hargreaves Lansdown’s Wealth 50 became the Wealth Shortlist. 

Germany’s N26 bank quit the UK citing Brexit – which still adds to the dictionary. Indeed, Whitehall’s D20 unit covers both Covid and Brexit fallout.

Cummings and Brexit

The Department for Exiting the EU was wound up with the Brexit team renamed Taskforce Europe – and banned  from saying ‘Brexit’ or ‘No deal’ as they sought an Australian or Canadian deal – but the first new trade pact is the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. In Ireland, Golfgate saw EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan quit for attending a sports dinner during lockdown.

The EU wanted ‘open and fair competition’; we demanded a ‘level playing field’.  And levelling up entered the UK political agenda too, though the proposed MIT of the North was quashed.

Dominic Cummings, the self-proclaimed ‘superforecaster’ who advertised for ‘weirdos and misfits’ and put Barnard Castle on the map was removed by ‘Princess Nut Nuts’, though Downing Street welcomed Dylan and Wilfred and cleared The Prittster of bullying. Nadhir Zahnwin added Minister of Vaccine Deployment to his nameplate. 

Dominic Cummings' career - a timeline
Dominic Cummings' career - a timeline

Politics

Britain was split into tiers and split over having them. MPs on the Northern Research Group and Covid Recovery Group opposed local lockdowns, as does the Brexit Party, which bounced back as Reform UK. The Socialist Parliamentary Research Group supports Jeremy Corbyn, who founded the For the Many Foundation. Meanwhile, the Electoral Reform Services is now Civica Reform Services.  

In Whitehall, the FO expanded into Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and Labour proposed a Robin Cook Act to monitor arms exports. A Global Talent Visa will replace Tier-1 visas for exceptional immigrants while Project Defend is Britain’s plan to reduce reliance on China for strategic imports. China and 14 other Asian countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact.

The US passed a Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act but Donald Trump stopped calling China a currency manipulator. He targeted ‘Sleepy Joe’ but didn’t spot Mobiden – momentum for Joe Biden. The US has CARES, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act, and the EU has SURE – Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency – plus a post-Covid New Generation Fund. The European Central Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Longer-Term Financing OperationsPeltos – include Corona bonds. 

Meanwhile Emmanuel Macron reprieved France’s top civil-service college, the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, but wants it renamed. 

Transport

But lorries heading for France now require Kent Access Permits despite objections from the Freight Transport Association, now renamed Logistics UK. All drivers may face a boundary charge for entering London.

Semi is Tesla’s electric truck (but founder Elon Musk, having called his baby X AE A-12, quickly renamed it X AE A-Xii). Project Vector is Jaguar’s self-driving ‘minibus’ – and Dyson’s electric vehicle, codenamed N526, was unveiled.

Dyson pulled the plug on its electric car plans after deciding they were not commercially viable - Dyson
Dyson pulled the plug on its electric car plans after deciding they were not commercially viable - Dyson

On the railways, the government’s Operator of Last Resort subsidiary took over train companies: the nationalised Northern Trains took over from Arriva and Pacer trains were finally withdrawn.  HS2 started 2020 under review but was reprieved to link with High Speed North – and ordered Cecilia and Florence, two German boring machines. 

Airlines lobbied for travel corridors and Covid passports.  It was revealed that John Major wanted Heathrow renamed Churchill airport and former transport minister Lord Adonis wanted Crossrail to be the Churchill Line but Boris Johnson chose Elizabeth Line. The Boeing 777X made its maiden flight but 737 jumbo production was halted.

California supervisors overruled a vote to rename John Wayne Airport as Orange County. But political correction was widespread. George Eliot reverted to Mary Ann Evans for a new edition. Nazi sympathies mean Marie Stopes International will become MSI Reproductive Choices. In New York state, Swastika voted to keep its name but F**king in Austria will now be Fugging, while Asbestos, Canada, voted to become Val-des-Sources. British Gas declared its gasmen are now gas engineers while the Canadian navy turned seamen into sailors

Black Lives Matter

Cancel culture caught JK Rowling, with a Sussex school dropping plans to name a house after the author; instead it will be Blackman House  – after Margaret Blackman, however, not because of BLM. But Bristol’s Colston Hall became Bristol Beacon to shed its slavery links, Edinburgh’s David Hume Tower was renamed 40 George Square. The Rhodes Arts Complex in Bishops Stortford was retitled South Mill Arts while in the City, Plantation House is now 30 Fenchurch Street and Sir John Cass’s Foundation primary school became Aldgate School.

Slavery overtones made estate agents drop ‘master bedroom’. Lewis Hamilton launched the Hamilton Commission to study racism in F1. The Washington Redskins are now Washington Football Team and Cleveland Indians is changing name.  Leicester students want De Montford University renamed.

Uncle Ben’s Rice was renamed Ben’s Original but Schweppes 1783 was dropped, diluted into its Signature Collection.

Rebrands

Two drinks businesses merged into Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company while Takeaway and Just Eat united as Just Eat Takeaway and Stelios delivered easyFood. Housebuilders Galliford Try and Bovis combined as Vistry. The National Security & Investment Bill could block foreign takeovers. 

The Intu property group went bust – like Edinburgh Woollen Mills and a string of retailers. Equitable Life finally disappeared.

British Gas Evolve was launched as a no-frills brand and BP Week set out BP’s new strategy. Unilever NV will go but, this time, Unilever plc stays, while Vodafone spins off Vantage Towers. Gambling group GVC wants to be Entain in future. Aviva’s search for a chief executive was codenamed GarnetOne Kingfisher, the strategy to unify the group’s UK and French DIY chains was dropped (though the B&Q subsidiary renamed its pink paints, with Dollface, Sweet Angel and Girly Girl becoming Fearless, Unstoppable and Woke Up Like This).

Project Pink is the merger of 02 with Virgin Media but NBC Sky World News – uniting the NBC and Sky brands – was scrapped. Times Radio’s launch will be followed by Boom Radio while GB News will be the 24-hour TV channel chaired by Andrew Neil and RE:TV is the online green channel edited by Prince Charles.

Zer0es TV was set up by hedge-fund founder Carson Block to demystifying short-selling. The BBC targets the ‘modern mainstream’ audience – men under 28. The Independent’s ennobled owner became Lord Lebedev of Siberia. 

Tech and climate change

From March onwards, millions of workers had to rely on their Wi-Fi for staff meetings - AJ Watt/E+
From March onwards, millions of workers had to rely on their Wi-Fi for staff meetings - AJ Watt/E+

Zoom came into our homes. Samsung developed a tennis-ball shaped droid called Baillie; Sony launched PlayStation 5 but quickly withdrew Cyberpunk 2077. Apple’s Gaze-dependent display encryption aims to stop others reading your smartphone. Amazon Pharmacy will deliver drugs to US homes but 150-plus independent British bookshops set up Bookshop.org to rival Amazon. The UK’s Digital Markets Unit will monitor the dot.com giants. 

The Government announced an Environmental Land Management Scheme to reform farming and a ‘green industrial revolution’ – plus £5,000 Green Homes Grants. Lenders offered mortgage holidays during the pandemic, but environmentalists advocated non-payment – a ‘mortgage rebellion’ to hit the banks through financial disobedience. An Affordable Homes Programme was launched and  the New Homes Quality Board became the new housing ombudsman. Grenfell Tower suppliers were accused a ‘merry-go-round of buck-passing’. 

Viking Wind Farm, off the Shetlands, will be Britain’s biggest offshore generator. Atlantic cyclones were so frequent that names exhausted the alphabet forcing meteorologists to use Greek letters, starting with Alpha. Sif is an island revealed when Antarctic ice melted and A68a is an iceberg heading for South Georgia. A beetle, nelloptodes gretae, was named after Greta Thurnberg, who said the ecocide should be a crime. 

Enrcochat was exposed as a phone network for criminals but Operation Venetic and Operation Eternal led to arrests. The Fincen Files revealed money-laundering reports to the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network while Project Waxwing investigated alleged laundering linked to the collapsed Wirecard. REvil hacked Travelex and American lawyers installing Sodinokibi ransomware. Cozy Bear – aka APT29 – and The Dukes were Russians hacking vaccine labs. In the UK, the Hound of Hounslow, a flash-crash trader, was spared US jail; Nightingale courts sprang up but ministers were said to want to rename the Supreme Court. 

Some words that should have become history by now won a reprieve in 2020: the BBC suspended its closure of the Red Button and HMRC delayed its crackdown on IR35 contractors for a year. The COP26 climate conference is postponed until 2021, as is Bond’s No Time To Die and Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020, though the football and Olympics keep their original date.

Out with the old

Names come – Crown Consultancy is the government’s in-house alternative to costly advisers – and names return: Crown preference again means the taxman gets paid first. And names go: one Oxford dictionary has deleted ‘Essex Girl’. However, Oxford now has Reuben College, endowed by property brothers David and Simon Reuben.

Discarded names that returned include Thomas Cook, back as a Chinese-owned travel agent, while Swan Hellenic sails again. Revived too are the Bank of England’s Term Funding Scheme and Spitting Image while an Indian tycoon is restarting BSA motorbike production. 

For 2021, John Lewis will no longer be ‘never knowingly undersold’ and Debenhams will no longer be – like the Beales department store chain.  Meanwhile 6G smartphones are coming, and beyond that is the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.  Exams might return, with algorithms forgotten – and maybe grade inflation will fall. 

Coronavirus will no doubt further expand the dictionary in 2021, but perhaps, just perhaps, Brexit has contributed its last word?