We heard it over and over again: 2020 was an unprecedented year. (Although 2021 is certainly doing its best to pick up where 2020 left off …) Our users agreed, choosing the word unprecedented as the People’s Choice Word of the Year.
2020 was, without a doubt, an extraordinary year—and it set off an extraordinary year for language, too, including compelling us to name the word pandemic as our Word of the Year. Among the many ways the pandemic transformed our lexicon were the incredible linguistic innovations of such terms as doomscrolling, Zoom-bombing, covidiot, and coronasomnia.
But the coronavirus wasn’t our only linguistic preoccupation and source of language change in 2020. We looked into the leading lookups in our slang dictionary to see what the trends had to say about 2020. We gathered together our top-five most viewed slang terms of 2020 into one place (but made sure they practiced proper social distancing).
1. KarenSee definition
If this term didn’t get mentioned first, it would probably ask for our manager. The slang Karen skyrocketed in use in the first half of 2020. By July alone, it had established itself as the top trender with over two million page views on our site.
People were curious who all these so-called Karens were in the many viral videos of white women unapologetically ignoring pandemic regulations or calling the police on Black people. Karen spread as a silly, although often mean-spirited, meme in the mid-2010s, but it became a full-on cultural touchstone in 2020 as more and more people used it to call out white privilege.
2. simpSee definition
The term simp seemed to come out of nowhere in late 2019, early 2020 on Tik Tok thanks to the members of “Simp Nation,” which popularized this problematic term for young men seen to grovel to women. These TikTokers took it upon themselves to shame such men to get them to “stop simping,” especially during “No Simp September.”
But the history and use of simp isn’t so simple. As is so often the case, slang terms are much older than recent, mainstream attention may lead you to believe.
3. WAPSee definition
On August 7, 2020, Cardi B dropped a little song and video known as “WAP.” And if Cardi B wants to make a new acronym a sensation, well, you better believe she will.
And indeed, interest in WAP went “triple platinum” on our site—as the song did in real life. Cardi B’s hip-hop ode to Black female sexual power had people wondering just what this controversial acronym stands for. Strong language ahead.
4. blue waffleSee definition
The internet’s gonna internet, apparent. While so much changed in 2020, the internet stayed true to its roots and kept circulating some strange stuff.
Curiosity around the truly bizarre and baffling myth of blue waffle just won’t die—despite being one of the first terms we ever entered into our slang dictionary. Enter at your own risk. You can’t say we didn’t warn you.
5. cancel cultureSee definition
In the wake of the George Floyd protests, many in America started taking a good, hard look at its problems with systemic racism. Some high-profile moments in this reckoning included changes to groups with some objectionable names. The Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum now take the stage as The Chicks and Lady A due to the problematic, pro-slavery associations with the words Dixie and antebellum. And the Washington Football Team at last ditched a previous name and imagery that made sport of Native Americans.
Not everyone was happy with this situation, though. Some backlash ensued, with loud cries that these changes were just another example of cancel culture. (Other critics, we should note, felt that these changes were simply virtue signaling, not doing enough for social progress.) The term cancel culture became so widespread in collective vocab, we needed to officially add it to our core dictionary.
Honorable Mention: pretty susSee definition
It would be pretty sus for us not to mention pretty sus, which exploded in popularity thanks to the video game Among Us in 2020. The game breathed fresh life into this shortened item that has a long history in slang. When it comes to claims to brand-new slang, you’ve always got to look out for imposters.
Honorable Mention: yeetSee definition
Isn’t this one a little more … 2018? Well, our users seemed to think this exclamatory slang had a place in 2020, too—even if not a lot of us had occasion to use it. Or, maybe with all that time together with their kids at home, parents finally got in the loop on this slang interjection.