Rhys' Newsletter #35

Words and Albums of the Year

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Hello guys, gals, and non-binary pals!

First off, thanks to all of you who have helped with my co-founder search. I truly appreciate it. If you haven’t yet, please send the job description along to your Type A friends who might be a fit!

1) In related news: applications are open for RF3, which begins Jan 11, 2021. We already have two great folks confirmed: a super sharp undergrad who is focused on internet brands and disinformation, and a systems thinker who is building sensemaking infrastructure using the Twitter APIs. If you’re interested, apply here!

2) Let’s dive into 2020’s Word of the Year. I’ve curated the Words of the Year from trusted institutions like Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and Urban Dictionary. (Though Oxford didn’t choose a word this year. WEAK.)

Here are some highlights:

Of course, COVID was the big linguistic story of this year. Most sites gave their WOTY to “pandemic”. Some sites decided to have a COVID word and a non-COVID word. Here’s how Oxford explained COVID’s impact:

We are using coronavirus as much as the most common English noun—time. In addition, it is a sure sign that a word has become embedded in the language when it develops its own abbreviations, compounds, and other formations.

Here are some of my favorite COVID words:

  • rona, the Before Times, quaranteam, iso (all diminuitives. FYI “iso” was the word of the year in Australia)

  • boomer remover/flatten the curve/long-hauler (generated from hashtags)

  • anti-masker/mask-shaming (a common pattern: when one side is anti-X, the other side shames)

  • armchair epidemiologists (see early internet pushback of bloggers as armchair media)

  • hygiene theatre (we get theater whenever signals decouple from reality)

  • circuit breaker (used for lockdowns in Singapore and UK, see image below. The circuit breaker metaphor is often used in networked complex systems)

Here are some non-COVID words of the year:

  • Tech: Mukbang, TikToker, infodemic, conspiracy theory, QAnon

  • George Floyd: defund, Karen,antiracism, and name changes like Lady A, The Chicks, and removing master/slave in code.

  • Climage Change: bushfire, anthropause, pyrocumulonimbus

  • Trumpisms like covfefe are out; Bidenisms like malarkey are in. That might be Biden’s only -ism though.

  • Exponential Times: doomscrolling, unprecedented. Also see how Cottagecore and lo-fi are responses to doomscrolling. See pics below of cottagecore. It’s the COVID popularization of “domestic cozy”.

All of the WOTY in one statement:

In these unprecedented times, please grab your quaranteam and iso up to help us #FlattenTheCurve and trip the circuit breaker. How? Listen to experts, not those damn armchair epidemiologists. Wear a mask. Don’t become an anti-masker. Mask shame those who don’t. And don’t get caught up in hygiene theater—do what matters. Remember, anyone could become a long-hauler! These are not the Before Times. The Rona is here.

Unfortunately, some folks don’t believe in the pandemic. We’re living in an infodemic of rampant conspiracy theories like QAnon, propagated by TikTokers. They should stick to mukbang. The internet has created racist extremists too—an army of Karens. They don’t want to take antiracist action like #DefundThePolice. Instead, they just complain about the overreach of political correctness, like The Chicks changing their name.

But you can take a break from doomscrolling. COVID has given us an anthropause from climate change and the pyrocumulonimbus bushfire clouds. So C=chill a bit. Embrace your inner cottagecore and put on some lo-fi.

2021 is here. It will be back to the new old normal, right? …Right?!?

Imagine trying to read that in 2019.


1) It’s time for my favorite holiday, #GivingTuesday!

Black Friday and Cyber Monday still dominate Giving Tuesday ($60B spent vs. $2B donated). But as our society gets less consumerist and more generous, I hope to see Giving Tuesday eventually pass the spending holidays.

One possible place to donate: GiveWell has a new top charity—New Incentives.

New Incentives incentivizes caregivers of infants to complete a series of routine, potentially life-saving childhood immunizations by providing them with a small cash transfer when each vaccine is given. It operates in North West Nigeria, where childhood immunization rates are low.

New Incentives increases the use of incentivized vaccines by 22%. They are extremely cost-effective—it costs only $3,000–$5,000 per life saved.

What a holiday steal! Seriously though, it is exciting whenever GiveWell finds a new effective charity. It doesn’t happen often.

2) Dave Chappelle released a powerful 18-minute monologue on his Instagram last week. In it, he criticizes Comedy Central for a contract that gave them full rights to distribute Chappelle’s Show without paying Dave a penny. He blames the system, what he calls the “monster”:

#MeToo hates the monster for how it fucks. I hate the monster for how it eats.

A post shared by Dave Chappelle (@davechappelle)

Stratechery has a great follow-up analysis: 5 Lessons from Dave Chappelle.

3) It’s cool to see the behind-the-scenes of AlphaFold’s breakthrough in protein folding. I love their urgency. And their elation when they learned about their win:

4) The Onion: FDA Delays Emergency Vaccine Approval Until They Finish Evaluating New Bagged Salad Kit




A quick reader response from last week: “If you like Bill Wurtz, you’ll like Dan Deacon.”

Here’s a playlist of my 15 favorite albums from 2020:

  • Moses Sumney and U.S. Girls make beautiful spoken-word interludes.

  • Rina Sawayama and Grimes continue to push PC Music. I can’t get enough.

  • Lyra Pramuk, Beatrice Dillon, and BAYNK experiment with acoustic-electronic hybrids.

  • Nubya Garcia will be the next jazz musician to win a Macarthur Genius Grant.

  • Jay Electronica finally produces his own rap album. Mac Miller makes a non-rap rap album. Fireboy DML emerges as an up-and-coming figure in the Nigerian rap scene.

  • HAIM, Jessie Ware, and Perfume Genius show us that the 80s will never die.

  • Fiona Apple is still weird, still punk.

What were your favorite albums from 2020?

Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

❤️ Thanks to my generous patrons ❤️

Shira Frank, David Hanna, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Groeneman, Haseeb Qureshi, Todd Youngblood, Jim Rutt, Zoe Harris, Yancey Strickler, Jacob Zax, David Ernst, Brian Crain, Matt Lindmark, Colin Wielga, Malcolm Ocean, John Lindmark, Collin Brown, Ref Lindmark, James Waugh, Mark Moore, Matt Daley, Peter Rogers, Darrell Duane, Denise Beighley, Scott Levi, Harry Lindmark, Simon de la Rouviere, and Katie Powell.