You’ve probably heard the word near-daily since March. It’s dominated nearly every corner of the world since. And there’s no better word to sum up the unbelievable year that was 2020.
“Pandemic” is the Word of the Year for both Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com. It informed top searches on both sites and reshaped the language we use daily, both companies said.
Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher, said people looked up “pandemic” with “remarkable frequency” throughout the year — particularly on March 11, when the World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic. On that day, searches for “pandemic” spiked 115,806% compared to the same day in 2019.
Many of the other top searches on the site were related to the pandemic, including “asymptomatic,” “quarantine” and, of course, “coronavirus.” And because so many people flocked to Merriam-Webster to define “Covid-19,” the mild to severe respiratory illness that is caused by a coronavirus, the word was added to the dictionary within just over one month of its first use.
Dictionary.com said that “pandemic” — its Word of the Year, too — is the “defining context of 2020.” Now, terms like “social distancing,” “flatten the curve” and “herd immunity” aren’t just used by health professionals — the public understands them, too.
“Specialized lingo, spanning topics from epidemiology to social behavior, formed a shared — and ever-expanding — glossary for daily life,” the online dictionary said in its announcement.
Both dictionaries also included “defund” among their top words of the year. The word reached a wider audience in June amid calls to “defund the police,” or withdraw funding from police departments, after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis.
The rest of the words both dictionaries chose read like a monthly guide to the year that was. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial dominated Dictionary.com’s first two months of the year. And Merriam-Webster honored the late Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January, by highlighting his nickname, “Mamba.”