Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year Is the Least Shocking Part of 2020

the word 'pandemic' appearing in a dictionary

Each year, Merriam-Webster chooses a word to sum up the previous twelve months in a neat little package. And we bet you can guess which word the dictionary chose to sum up 2020.

Merriam-Webster, chose the word “pandemic” to represent this very strange year. It chose the word based on a statistical analysis of words that are “looked up in extremely high numbers in our online dictionary while also showing a significant year-over-year increase in traffic,” it explained on its website. 

“That probably isn't a big shock,” Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, 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.” The dictionary explained, it saw the first big search spike for the word “pandemic” on Feb. 3rd, which happened to be the same day that the first COVID-19 patient in the U.S. was released from a Seattle hospital. 

“That day, pandemic was looked up 1,621% more than it had been a year previous, but close inspection of the dictionary data shows that searches for the word had begun to tick up consistently starting on January 20th, the date of the first positive case in the U.S.,” it said.

The word was being looked up an average of 4,000% over 2019 levels by early March, and on March 11, when the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the website saw an increase of 115,806% over lookups on that day in 2019. 

Just in case you were curious, Merriam-Webster defines pandemic as “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population.” 

The dictionary also listed a few other key words for 2020 including “coronavirus,” “defund,” “kraken,” “mamba,” “quarantine,” “antebellum,” “schadenfreude,” “asymptomatic,” “irregardless,” “malarkey,” and “icon.” Find out what they all mean here.

Stacey Leasca is a journalist, photographer, and media professor. Send tips (and continue to tell her all the things she spells wrong) by DM’ing her on Instagram now.  

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