Ken Pollitz: 2020, the year of the thesaurus

By Ken Pollitz - Guest Column

There is much to be said for the year, 2020, literally!

Disinclined to consider myself anywhere approaching the learned, I plop myself down in the great abyss of the learner, floundering around trying to lay claim to some new knowledge. Author Leonard Sweet once scribed, “When I was learned, I used to point my finger and pontificate. Now that I’m a learner, I slap my forehead all the time.”

Often glossed over and sometimes even dismissed from that beloved biblical chapter, 1st Corinthians 13, is the notion of how we “know only in part” and how it is that “for now we see only in a mirror dimly.” Humility and wisdom would invite our keeping a rag and a bottle of Windex close at hand.

Comparatively speaking, the English language word-count hovers around a million and, according to the experts, essentially dominates that of the Germans and the French.

I’m no William Shakespeare or John Milton, whose voluminous vocabularies are unparalleled, but this past year afforded a grand opportunity to incrementally inch forward.

Consider for just a moment the volume of words that now fluidly and fluently flow off our lips having been newly-incorporated into our internal thesaurus. Previously, I might have had to do research to articulate the variance between epidemic and pandemic. Such uncertainty is no more.

Though previously familiar with the descriptive, I along with countless others have gone on a record-setting pace in the usage of “unprecedented.”

My medical glossary of terms will not be sufficient for a late-in-life career change, but just ask me about anything having to do with asymptomatic, coronavirus, epidemiology, the CDC or the WHO. And to think I haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express & Suites for well over a year.

Expanded usage of commonplace terms has also unfolded during this formidable year. With a number of grandsons and one more on the way, cars and trucks have been on plenty of wish lists. Down on the floor or across the coffee table I’ve blubbered “zoom” as we drive our miniature vehicles over the “pavements”! These days, with no grandchildren in sight, I can have upwards of a half-dozen “zooms” per week as I sit and listen mesmerized by my personal version of “Hollywood Squares.”

We’ve got plenty of them in our home, often scattered atop nightstands or wedged between couch cushions, but the remote is no longer limited to a handheld device for navigating endless hours of binge-watching Netflix. Now it describes the endless hours of makeshift working or learning from home, or to appropriate the newest abbreviation, “WFH.”

A while ago, we bought some expensive high-quality cutlery for the home. Among the items we selected was a beautifully designed flat knife which was great for applying peanut butter and jelly to my morning English muffins. For a while I considered it my unparalleled super-spreader, but now the word has an unfortunate counterpart for what can happen during a pandemic when people have events such as in-home parties and gatherings where masks and social distancing are ignored.

I haven’t taken that kind of bath in years, but every summer without fail we keep our shelves stocked with bubbles for whenever the grandkids are in town. It turns out that bubbles are as much for adults now as they are for children. Bubbles still come in various shapes and sizes and those particles floating in the air remain a priority. The difference is, when kids play with it, they are all about bursting the bubbles. During COVID-19, for any family and friends who gather for one, they’re careful it not ever burst.

Afraid of heights myself, I won’t be aspiring anywhere too lofty, least of all a rocket ship into outer space. From my standpoint, quarantining was reserved for the most adventurous who traveled to the moon or a distant space station then back to planet earth. It turns out that virtually anyone can quarantine, and you don’t even have to leave your home to do it!

Nevertheless, here’s hoping and praying 2021 brings a plummeting of disuse for what’s occupied our current vocabulary with incessant repetition.

We might be uplifted, I believed, were we to leave the mouse alone and refrained from any more “doomscrolling.” If this pandemic is also known as the “great equalizer,” then how about we promote the spread of other contagion such as love, mercy, accommodation, respect, justice, patience and harmony.

I’m only aware of some of the etymology of the word and the interest in “schadenfreude,” or the enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others, but it can go back to where it came from as far as I’m concerned.

It might even serve us well to keep the “mute” button on longer than it’s off.

And finally, who isn’t anxiously awaiting a reacquaintance with the word “normal?” If you ask me, that word’s been on furlough and lockdown far too long!

By Ken Pollitz

Guest Column

Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at

Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at

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