Buzzwords give us a quick sense of what people have been thinking and talking about: shortcuts to understand the zeitgeist of the times.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

This was the year of the Great Recession. The term was coined in a fit of relief rather than fear, because it seemed very likely in early 2009 that the world was headed into a 1930s-style Great Depression. The recession did not turn into something worse because of unprecedented action by governments to prevent the worst.

Economies responded to the stimulus and US Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke announced in March that he had spotted green shoots breaking out of the arid ground. The phrase later hit us in an unstoppable blizzard of news reports, research notes, corporate presentations and conference speeches.

As the recovery gathered speed, there was debate on what shape it would take: V, W or U? Or a triple-U and square root sign to keep the debate going? Much depends on whether you believe that the bounce in economic growth is because of stimulus packages such as the cash-for-clunkers programme in the US. The debate now is how soon global central banks and governments would plan their exit strategy. Of course, you know that quantitative easing just cannot continue. All this will define the new normal in 2010.

Climate change was another one, replacing global warming as the hot phrase of choice to discuss the biggest issue to catch popular attention across the world since perhaps the peace movements of the 1960s, though hopefully it will be less vacuous than the make-love-not-war movement. A lot of hope was eventually pinned on the climate change negotiations held in Copenhagen in December: hence Hopenhagen and (from the sceptics) Flopenhagen.

In the world of technology, it was no longer Web 2.0 or social media or cloud computing. The phrase of the year was netbook computers. The first netbook computer was made more than a decade ago but these small and inexpensive gizmos came into their own only in 2009. The old One Laptop Per Child dream sold by Nicholas Negroponte on MIT Media Labs may have dissipated, but the world now expects netbook computers to give digital access to millions of students and poor people.

And 2010? Let’s hope we borrow a popular phrase from the 1930s: Happy Days Are Here Again, though literally rather than sardonically.

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