, from left to right, Julie Rogel, Ainsley Lumpe, Juliet Marinello, and Jorge Parada Cisneros.

AP English Lit Students Debate Word of the Year

From left to right, Julie Rogel, Ainsley Lumpe, Juliet Marinello, and Jorge Parada Cisneros.

December 18, 2020

This has been a year like no other. Huntington High School Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition students recently completed an intriguing interdisciplinary project focused on the 2020 Word of the Year.

 Huntington High School English teacher Kelly Quintero.
Huntington High School English teacher Kelly Quintero.

“As the world changes, so does the way we speak,” English teacher Kelly Quintero said. “We live in a world where medical jargon rolls off our tongues (quarantine, antigen, nasal swab), where we have new words to describe how we learn (I’m hybrid, they’re on the Meet), we use a new set of abbreviations (PPE, PPP, PCR) and we’ve altered the meanings of some words we’ve used in the past (Zoom, chat, lock-down and scroll). We’ve also started using prepositions in new ways (the homework is ON the Classroom).”

The class assignment involved reflecting on how society has expanded its vocabulary in response to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide protests, the presidential election and related issues and controversies.

“Then we set out to select one particular word we thought would best represent our experiences this year,” Mrs. Quintero said. “The top contenders were, drum roll please . . . . pandemic, quarantine, Zoom, Meet, lockdown, shutdown, protest, racism, ballot, positive, virus, social distance and fraud.”

Students displayed deep and poignant thinking and were exceptionally articulate while supporting their word choice.

“The word ‘quarantine’ was rarely used before this pandemic started,” Alex Gonzalez said. “I only remember using the word quarantine or seeing it in science textbooks. Before the existence of COVID-19, quarantine was defined as isolation after being exposed to a disease. Although the word has retained this meaning, it has changed dramatically and it now represents the 2020 lifestyle.”

No one took the assignment lightly and everyone came up with good reasons for their choice of words.

“‘Appreciation’ is the word that best describes how many people have been feeling throughout the year 2020,” Angie Mata said. “Many people now appreciate the lives of their loved ones, school, work and so much more.”

The AP students had fun with the assignment, but they also took it seriously.

“The word ‘frontline’ or the phrase ‘frontline workers’ should earn the title of the Word of the Year,” Andrea Delcid said. “The word ‘frontline’ changed its connotation at the start of 2020. Instead of the word being about militaries and soldiers, it became more about essential workers during the pandemic. They worked hard every day to ensure everyone else gets what they need and to ensure safety in public places.”

Mrs. Quintero is proud of her students for their thoughtfulness and well-reasoned choices.

“There are no doubt endless words to describe this year,” Gabrielle Trimboli said. “Just too many to count. However, the word I chose would be ‘unreal.’ I almost wish there was a more eloquent word I could have used, but this is the one I felt was the most accurate. From the pile of events that 2020 has given us, whether good or bad, every single one has felt simply unreal.

The teenagers are in a good position to make the choices since they have had their lives dramatically altered since last March and continuing through a summer of protests, a fall of political controversies and the ongoing pandemic this winter.

“To capture the mood and culture of the year, the 2020 Word of the Year should be ‘remote,’” Grace Wildermuth said. “Remote has become a part of almost every activity in our lives. Remote school; remote work; remote church; remote band practice; remote voting. The word has endured changes in denotation and connotation that make it a perfect study into semantics.”

It’s safe to say that none of the teenagers will ever forget this time in their life or what they have already lived through. It is something they will always remember.

“‘Change’ is this year’s word,” Alex Bellisimo said. “Change has been more unavoidable than it ever has, but not all change has to be bad. Even if it is, positives can be taken from it and one’s perspectives on life can change for the better. Although the world is always changing, 2020 is the definition of change and has become a part of the forefront of history. This year will never be forgotten.”