Merriam-Webster announced on Monday that 2020's word of the year, which won't come as a shock to the majority of people, is "pandemic."
The dictionary publisher revealed that 2020's definitive word was "looked up at Merriam-Webster.com in 2020 with remarkable frequency throughout the entire year and in numbers that far exceeded 2019 lookups." The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak across the world a global pandemic on March 11, and searches for the word "pandemic" spiked by 115,806 percent from the same date last year.
"That probably isn't a big shock," Merriam-Webster editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski told the Associated Press. "Often the big news story has a technical word that’s associated with it and in this case, the word pandemic is not just technical but has become general. It’s probably the word by which we’ll refer to this period in the future." He added that the increase in lookups for the word isn't because so many don't know what it means, but more likely that people were looking for more detail.
"We see that the word love is looked up around Valentine’s Day and the word cornucopia is looked up at Thanksgiving," Sokolowski added. "We see a word like surreal spiking when a moment of national tragedy or shock occurs. It’s the idea of dictionaries being the beginning of putting your thoughts in order." COVID-19 was also added to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary shortly after the pandemic was declared, while other entries related to the pandemic were revised to reflect the current health emergency.
"The words that rise to prominence when we examine our data at the year’s end always say something about our collective experience. In this case, the Word of the Year is one that has truly touched us all," Sokolowski continued. "Pandemic is not only an important medical term; it’s likely that this period of time will be forever known by this word."