When a TV show that had plotted out whole future seasons is suddenly canceled, the writers sometimes go maximum rip for the finale, cramming what were meant to be sweeping arcs into a handful of absurdly overstuffed episodes. 2020 has felt like that.
And while we realize turning the calendar to 2021 can’t magically reboot everything overnight, we’re hopeful things gradually improve. One modest dream we have involves retiring a few of the year’s more grating turns of phrase.
Not the practical ones like “social distancing” and “nose bridge wire” mind you—those are crucial for the time being. And not just the irksome ones like “quarantimes” and “quarantini” either, although we look forward to forgetting those as well. We’re talking about the cliches that, in these trying times, have now, more than ever, become our new normal. (Blergh.)
We are not without sin, having dabbled in some “new normal”-ing ourselves this year. But we know we can do better—as can you, gentle reader. Let’s discuss how.
Ditch the hollow cliches
If a search of your inbox for “new normal” comes up empty, you lead a blessed life. See also: “unprecedented.” For your humble writer, “now more than ever” turns up more emails from the spring of 2020 alone than from all of the prior two years.
What these misguided missives seem to want to communicate is “hey, we’re sensitive to the fact a lot of stuff is messed up, but someone’s job is still to send you random emails, so here goes.” If that someone is you, no shade, and good on you for somehow staying on task this year.
Going forward, the best replacement for these cliches may be nothing at all. If you’re reaching out in an email and know me well enough to talk specifically, then hi, y’all okay? Otherwise, yes, folks are aware of (sweeps hand) all this, and it’s not clear why you’d need to reference it. Brevity is often the better part of valor.
“Can everyone see my screen? Also, can everyone please mute themselves?” If this has become your life, we are deeply sorry. We like to think meeting virtually is now a bit more familiar for most folks, but alas, a few have managed to maintain strangely difficult relationships with the mute function. (If that’s you, and I know it is because I can still hear you chewing, David, stop.)
While it’s not too late to learn—a practice session online with a friend might help before your big presentation—we’re afraid these phrases may stubbornly persist, as your next in-person meeting may still be a ways off.
Meantime, perhaps the best way to dial back such encounters is to keep each virtual meeting’s agenda focused while avoiding meeting unnecessarily.
Annoying terms for bad behaviors
Many of us adopted an ABCD policy this year: “Always Be Compulsively Doomscrolling.” And while some of our purchases have been sensible—the sweatpants disguised as jeans; the noise-canceling headphones to dampen your neighbor’s kid’s relatable hissyfit—the panic buying was not great, nor was that term.
Again, the remedy is likely not to find an improved synonym, but rather for the thing we’re talking about to become less prevalent.
In the case of “panic buying,” that may have already happened. A search of Google trends shows it’s down markedly from a peak in March. Similarly, searches for “maskne” have diminished, which we like to think means that new skincare routine is finally showing results. (Oddly, “doomscrolling” resurged in early November for reasons that are a complete mystery to us.)
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Writing well is hard even in the best of times, and these have been widely regarded as . . . not those. We hope things improve in the new year, and that in the meantime you’ll be kind to yourself and to others. A fine first step might be resolving to never make anyone read the word “covidiot” again.