Merriam Webster Announces ‘Pandemic’ as 2020’s Word of the Year 

Word of the year is decided after a statistical analysis of the words that are looked up in extremely high numbers.

2 min read
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Merriam Webster on Monday, 30 November, announced that its word of the year fro 2020 is ‘pandemic’; a decision that comes with no surprise, but a surreal recognition of the fact that before 2020, this word was not a part of our daily, or even our monthly or yearly lexicon.

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, tells The Associated Press that “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 Hindu reported.

In Merriam Webster, pandemic is defined 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.”

Word of the year is decided after a statistical analysis of the words that are looked up in extremely high numbers on the online dictionary and appear in searches consistently year after year.

The word pandemic first began appearing in searches in striking numbers in the beginning of February, when the first COVID-19 patient was discharged from the hospital in the US.

However, it was in March that it gained a marked importance and urgency when the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

Sokolowski says that the searches for the word pandemic on 11 March 2020 were 1,15,806 percent higher than searches recorded on the same date last year.

He believes that this increase in traffic should not only be attributed to the number of people who are looking up the meaning of the word, but also to people looking for comfort, inspiration or simply, more detail amidst the medical emergency.

Etymologically, the word is a union of the Greek word ‘pan’, meaning “all” or “every,” and ‘demos’, meaning people.

Merriam Webster also broadened its collection of words as the world led up to the global declaration of the pandemic, coining ‘COVID-19’ in February. It was up online thirty-four days later, the shortest period of time a word had gone from coinage to entry, according to Sokolowski.

Among the runners up, were words like ‘Coronavirus’,’ ‘quarantine’, ‘asymptomatic’ that reflected the crisis of the times we are living in.

‘Mamba’ gained recognition after the untimely death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter at the beginning of the year, and ‘Defund’ observed the growing discontent towards the police forces in the US going mainstream.

Other words like ‘malarkey’, ‘irregardless’, ‘icon’, ‘kraken’, ‘antebellum’ and ‘schadenfreude’ also made an appearance.

(With inputs from AP, The Hindu)

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