On the heels of Oxford Languages “Word of the Year” for 2019 — “climate emergency” — comes a COVID-inspired collection of words for 2020, including “anthropause.” Anthro = human. Pause = interrupt action.
Anthropause was coined by researchers seeking to describe the lull in global human activity, which, in some cases, allowed wildlife to move into spaces typically dominated by people or move about unimpeded or unaffected by us.
For the briefest of moments, a hush fell over Earth. Scientists called it “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” One put it this way: “All of a sudden … silence.”
Reports emerged from around the world: Sightings of rare, wild, big cats in Chile, deer on urban streets in Italy, loggerhead turtles on Florida beaches laying more eggs.
We noticed it too, didn’t we? The anthropause. When the human world went still and the nonhuman sector of the natural world could, for a moment, right itself. Here on the Island, didn’t we see more birds in the trees? More deer in the streets? More Vineyard Haven turkeys in Oak Bluffs?
This rarest of periods is already being studied by scientists, keen to understand the impact. What will this anthropause teach us not only about wildlife but about ourselves, about our place in the world, about our ability to pause our activity in deference to the rest of the earth’s creatures? And what will we do with the answers?