By Andy Benzo

Sometimes a word or simple phrase would suffice when we try to define an experience or a very impactful moment, but in the case of this pandemic, finding a single concept to capture it was challenging.

When I asked some friends about a word defining these pandemic times, I mostly heard: “challenging,” “chaotic,” or “frustrating.”  Yet, I also heard “resilience,” “creativity,” and “community.” I admit that I agree with all those words. These pandemic times covering most of 2020 and half of 2021 have been so unexpected and confusing that a single word or phrase will not do.

We learned something fundamental during this pandemic — that we are not alone, even in isolation. We quickly adapted to technology and starting zooming with our friends and coworkers. We learned to manage new technologies (for some of us that are technologically challenged, we are still in the learning process). We discovered we have the strength to endure the chaos.

We have also witnessed an unprecedented worldwide team effort; many people rallied to create databases about the pandemic vocabulary so translators and interpreters would find the terms needed to create unity in translations and interpretations. Additionally, many professionals donated their time and expertise to offer free webinars and workshops for translators and interpreters to help us learn new technology or new vocabulary—kindness at its best.

We thought that the pandemic would be over by the end of last year. But it wasn’t over. It defined 2020. Every newspaper and organization tried to identify the words that would describe 2020.

The Language team at Oxford every year chooses a word or a phrase that defined the year before. The Oxford words for 2019 were “climate emergency.” Last year, the Oxford Language team recognized that 2020 could not fit in one single word. Therefore, they created a report to incorporate all the words that were created in 2020, in which they stated that, “In almost real-time lexicographers were able to monitor and analyze seismic shifts in language data and precipitous frequency rises in new coinages.”

We are lucky enough that now, in the United States, we are starting to see a way out of this pandemic. Unfortunately, many countries are still in lockdown, and these terms still apply to their daily lives.

The Language team at Oxford every year chooses a word or a phrase that defined the year before. The Oxford words for 2019 were “climate emergency.” Last year, the Oxford Language team recognized that 2020 could not fit in one single word.

Here are some of the words that defined my life during the pandemic.

  • “blursday.” I am sure we all felt this effect, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when, at least in California, everything came to a halt. Days were blending into a time and space continuum that later was defined, very appropriately, I would say, with this term.
  • Doomscrolling: the endless hours spent checking social media feeds, at a time when we felt that it was the only way to connect (and for a time it was).
  • Quarantinis: the creative side of people also emerged in a fun way with these new liquid concoctions that were enjoyed alone or in virtual happy hours. I enjoyed many quarantinis myself.Picture4
  • Zoom: This verb turned into a noun and incorporated itself as household vocabulary: Zoom conferences, Zoom meetings, Zoom concerts. We used this online meeting platform to work and socialize and which, of course, led to Zoom fatigue.

Last year we actively created more new words than any previous year. English speakers are known to have the ability to coin terms and to turn verbs into nouns or nouns into verbs, which I have always admired in the English language. As a native Spanish speaker, I know things are also changing in the Spanish language. Yet, the coinage of new words in Spanish does not seem to happen as quickly as it does in English.

However, we have created some new words this year:

  • Cuarentenear: to spend some time in quarantine. Although the correct spelling would be cuarentenar, the word has been incorporated in the Diccionario de la lengua española (DLE).
  • Covidiota: the person that refuses to follow the health directives of Covid 19 to avoid spreading the virus, also incorporated in the DLE.
  • Zoompleaños: in the pandemic era, nothing better than celebrating your birthday with your buddies via Zoom.
  • Sinfinamiento: when the original lockdown was supposed to end, but it was extended ad infinitum.

These are some of the words that define this pandemic, but on a personal note, the word that defined it for me is the Spanish word “reinventarnos,” the capacity to reinvent ourselves in order to adapt and survive. I believe it describes us on many levels; it implies our resilience, our creativity, and our commitment to moving forward.

I cannot wait to see what words will define 2021.

Andy Benzo Pic

Andy Benzo has a Law Degree and a Translation Degree from her native Argentina. She has been working as a freelance Legal Translator for more than 30 years. In her more than 30 years as a Legal Translator, she has been responsible for assignments involving international contracts, class actions lawsuits, labor union agreements, and international certifications of business and religious organizations.

She joined the ATA in 1999 and is ATA-certified. She is the current Assistant Administration of the Spanish Division of the ATA. She is the Host of the Podcast “Charlas de café” of the SPD.

For many years, she was an instructor in the Translation and Interpretation Certificate Program at UCSD Extension, where she taught several courses, including Legal and Business Translation, Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpretation. Andy was a founder of ATISDA (Association of Translators and Interpreters in the San Diego Area), serving as its President for 7 years. Continuing her studies in the US, she obtained a Paralegal Degree from California State, San Marcos. Past Chair of the Bylaws and Governance Committee of NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.) She is a Board member of RIUSS (Research Institute of the United States Spanish.)

Andy has given many presentations at ATA conferences and in other forums nationally and internationally. She is currently the President of Juris Mentis, Inc. a translation company in San Diego, California.