Word of the Year

I had never really thought that much about it before, but every year different dictionary companies select what they call the “Word of the Year.” 2020 is no different, except several publications couldn’t stop at just one “Word of the Year.” In some cases the “Word of the Year” became the “Phrase of the Year.”

Though we’d heard the term “Black Lives Matter” before 2020, it seemed to gain prominence this year. “COVID-19” became another phrase we use all the time now, though we’d never heard of it a year ago.

Other words or phrases of 2020 have become “lockdown,” “Superspreader,” “social distancing,” “ZOOM,” “Covidiot,” “Mail-in,” “PPE,” “Face Masks,” “Shelter-in-place,” “frontliners” and “essential workers.”

What was genuinely unprecedented this year was the hyper-speed at which the English-speaking world amassed this new collective vocabulary relating to the coronavirus, and how quickly it became, in many instances, a core part of the language.

Even though these new words and phrases burst onto the scene this year, it may not be right to call them words of the year. They each have been used multiple times and we all know what each of them means. But there seems to me to be an underlying theme running through each of these words and phrases that, even though this word has been around forever, it is central to most of the other words in this “word of the year” selection. That word is “Fear!”

Fear permeates most of the new words that we have all started using in 2020. It makes you think that the coronavirus (another word of the year) had been planned by some nefarious entity that wants to keep us, the general population, afraid, in our homes and away from other people.

I’ve seen more fear this year than I have at any time since the market meltdown in 2008. With businesses, churches and government offices curtailing their hours, it’s easy to see why some would be fearful of the stock market crashing. In fact the S&P 500 had a near crash earlier this year. It reached its highest point of 3386 on February 19th, then over an 18 market day period it fell 29.5 percent to 2386 on March 16th. A 30 percent correction is considered a crash. It has now recovered all that it lost and finished November at 3622, which is up 7% over its February high.

Does that mean we are out of the woods and it’s clear sailing from now on? Of course not! With all that has happened this year it would seem appropriate for the stock market to enter a long-term bear market. But it doesn’t mean it will. At least, not right now. When can we look for a bear? I recently read an article in which a market analyst said a bear market is coming, he just couldn’t say when. Of course he couldn’t. Nobody can predict crashes with any degree of accuracy.

We all know that bear markets follow bull markets. If we prepare for it, though, there is nothing to fear. We simply understand it when it comes along and adjust our portfolios as necessary. But we don’t live in fear. Fear is the emotion that can do the most damage to a portfolio because it causes us to do things that are not usually in our own best interests. So even though no dictionary picked “fear” as the “word of the year” for 2020, in my book, fear is the emotion that runs through almost all the other words that have been chosen. Let’s be safe. Let’s take precautions. But let’s not let “fear” be our word of the year.