zoom also Zoom

verb [transitive/intransitive]

to communicate with someone using the video conferencing service Zoom

'I spent my days watching TV, Netflix, Masterclass, checking on my Mom in another hospital, zooming my friends, doing jumping jacks, and sleeping.'

Panay News 17th September 2020

It's the time of year when academics, publishers and language mavens across the English-speaking world are speculating about what word should take the top spot as a neat characterization of the preoccupations of the past 12 months. And in 2020 they've got plenty of material to choose from, a year that will surely be forever engrained in history as a time when the modern world faced an unprecedented challenge (unprecedented – there's a candidate word of the year already). Our grappling with the pandemic has led to equally unprecedented lexical fallout, from super-spreader to self-isolate, quarantini to doomscrolling. But, rather than dwell on the gloom or terms that will inevitably drift away as the virus eventually abates, let's dedicate our final BuzzWord of the year to a concept that has kept the world spinning through these tricky times and is likely to be in it for the long haul – 2020 is undoubtedly the year of the Zoom boom.

At the beginning of 2020, I can admit that for me the word zoom related only to what people did with cameras or vehicles, and I'd never heard of the video conferencing app – I'm guessing I'm not alone. But, as I write, there can be very few people for whom the word now doesn't immediately conjure up images of video chat, even if they've not actually zoomed anyone themselves. At a time when sitting with friends in a café or giving your grandparents a hug can be deemed acts of reckless irresponsibility, zooming someone has been a way to satisfy the yearning gap in human contact, a high-profile antidote to the very weird and unpalatable implications of the need for 'social distancing'. As we've got over the awkwardness of video chat – when to mute the mic, when to stop talking etc – we've discovered that, for the most part, it can be quite an effective substitute for a real life meet-up, and our use of language even betrays our increasing reliance on it, with plenty of evidence for use of expressions like zooming my heart out or zooming my life/day away etc.

2020 is undoubtedly the year of the Zoom boom

A working day, an appointment with the doctor, a pub quiz … the action of zooming someone has seeped into so many parts of our lives. And over just a few months the concept's trajectory through society has been fascinatingly mirrored in different patterns of word formation. Zoom now regularly appears before a variety of nouns relating to gatherings of people, so as well as zoom meetings we have, to name but a few: zoom parties, zoom weddings, zoom choirs, zoom orchestras, and the now ubiquitous zoom quizzes. Attendance at some of these virtual gatherings might require the wearing of a zoom shirt, a smart-looking top placed within easy access of your video set-up so that you can quickly make yourself look presentable. Those of us zooming each other will be hoping we won't be disturbed by the phenomenon of zoombombing – uninvited joining of a Zoom call with the intention of disrupting it (compare with photobombing). And yet another noun compound relates to the potential pitfalls of too much of this type of interaction – if we overdo our screen-based socializing, we can fall prey to zoom fatigue.

Sufferers of zoom fatigue might be characterized as zoombies. A playful blend of zoom and zombie, this is just one example of where zoom has also dipped its toe into portmanteau waters. Others include zoomathon (a particularly protracted Zoom session) and my own personal favourite, zumping, a blend of zoom and verb dump (in the sense of 'end a romantic relationship') which describes the action of telling someone it's all over via video – a situation when not being in the same room may not be so bad after all …

As Christmas approaches, the restrictions of the pandemic may well remove the luxury of choice for some of us – if we want to see our relatives or friends, it might have to be on screen via Zoom or similar technology. Though we run the risk of becoming zoomed out (a new phrasal verb, based on creative coinages like partied/conferenced out etc, i.e. having done something so much that you need a break from it), we have to hope that, despite video interaction having become a new kind of normal, 2021 will bring better times. Many of us might still be WFH, but hopefully our socializing will be a whole lot more f2f.

Background – zoom

The new verb sense of zoom follows in the footsteps of google, skype, facebook etc, where the trademarked name of an application gradually becomes synonymous with the action of using it.

Zoom is the videotelephony service provided by Zoom Video Communications, Inc., a Californian telecommunications company founded in 2011. Originally called Saasbee Inc, the company changed its name to Zoom in 2012. Though cleverly making a connection with the camera sense of zoom, the name came about when a company investor took inspiration from the title of a children's picture book called Zoom City (by Thacher Hurd, HarperCollins 1997).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words. She also writes materials for Onestopenglish.

Last month …

Read last month's BuzzWord. ghost kitchen.

This article was first published 8th December 2020.

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