2020 has been a sad year, a scary year, an angry year, a lonely year, a grieving year. Above all, though, it’s been a weird year. Very, very, very weird—from the personal (sheltering in place, in some cases for months on end) to the social (no funerals, no parties, no breaching the six-foot contact boundary) to the cultural (no movies, no theater, no concerts, no schools, no restaurants, no sports) to the political (do I need to repeat all the counterfactuals?).
It’s been a weird year for movies, for birding, for gamers, for football, for holidays, for our sense of geography. People have been reporting weird pandemic dreams. A lot of COVID symptoms are “weird as hell.” A whole subset of Trump-involved phenomena have been labeled weird in 2020: his dancing, his nominating convention, his “joke” about the true authorship of a New York Times op-ed bylined “Anonymous.”
In October, scientists reported discovering a weird molecule on Titan, one of Saturn’s “already weird” moons. A weird, glowing ball was spotted hovering over a forest in Mexico. The Chevy Bolt recall was “a weird one.” There’s something “super weird” about Netflix anime. Elon Musk posted some weird tweets and gave his baby a weird name, the unpronounceable “X Æ A-12.”
“What a f*ing weird year to live in” spiral notebook via Red Bubble
In April, Atlantic staff writer Olga Khazan published Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World. The timing couldn’t have been better, or weirder.
Also in April, the New York Times Sunday Magazine published one of the best profiles I’ve ever read: Sam Anderson’s story about Weird Al Yankovic, “the most renowned comedy musician in the multiverse.” I hadn’t known I cared about Weird Al—who acquired his nickname as an architecture undergrad at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where he was three years younger than his classmates and deeply, endearingly weird—until I read the profile. Now I’m smitten.
Two new Weird Al books were published in 2020. Weird Al: Seriously, by Lily E. Hirsch (with a foreword by Al’s childhood idol, Dr. Demento), came out in March.
The official pub date of Black & White & Weird All Over: The Lost Photographs of “Weird Al” Yankovic, by Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, is tomorrow, November 17.
Sometimes WEIRD is an acronym: It stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. We got a book about that this year, too.
Before it was an acronym or an adjective, weird was a noun, wyrd. In Old English wyrd meant fate or destiny; the word is related to a root meaning “to wind” or “to turn.” The sense of “uncanny” or “supernatural” developed in Middle English: the witches in Macbeth are “weird sisters.” (By the way, people have been spelling, or misspelling, weird as wierd for several centuries.) From that sense we got, by the 19th century, weird as “strange looking” or “disturbingly different.”
The OED’s earliest citation for weird as a verb—as in “that’s weirding me out, man”—is from 1970, which means it was probably used in conversation for several years before that.
Obligatory reproduction of “verbing weirds language” Calvin and Hobbes strip, originally published January 25, 1993
How to cope with the weirdness of 2020? Here’s some advice.
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro https://t.co/P2zvBCs6Cr— Warning Level 3 (@nwchap) November 15, 2020
And here’s some more. I recently interviewed clarinetist Jeff Anderle about his upcoming Amateur Music Network workshop, “Weird Sounds for Clarinet.” Jeff once led an ensemble in a round of “Happy Birthday” played on hollowed-out carrots, or “carrot-nets.” He co-founded a group called Sqwonk. He knows from weird.
I asked Jeff why musicians should investigate weird sounds. “When we abandon traditional performance practice we can get some expressive, funny, or beautiful sounds,” he told me. “That sound you thought was a mistake is something you can do on purpose.”
In other words, don’t fight the weirdness: yield to it.
The “Weird Sounds” workshop is November 21—sign up now! It should be a hoot (and also a squawk, a squeak, a honk, and a bleat).
Weirdest Year Ever T-shirt via Teepublic