(NEW YORK) — Maybe it comes as no surprise, but the word of the year is “pandemic.” At least, that’s the official word from from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which chose it as its 2020 Word of the Year.
Weeks after the folks at Oxford Language admitted they couldn’t choose a single word to sum up 2020, they instead highlighted a host of words like “mask-shaming,” “remotely” and ,yes, “pandemic,” among other COVID-19-related words. The folks at Merriam-Webster instead decided the latter deserved to stand alone in infamy.
“Sometimes a single word defines an era, and it’s fitting in this exceptional — and exceptionally difficult — year, a single word came immediately to the fore as we examined the data that determines what our Word of the Year will be,” the dictionary’s organizers said.
Based on numbers crunched by the linguists there, the first big spike for people looking up the word “pandemic” happened on February 3, which coincides with the release from a Seattle hospital of the the first COVID-19 patient.
When the World Health Organization declared on March 11 that “COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” searches spiked to the dictionary’s highest numbers of the year, representing a jump of 115,806% over the number of people who looked that word up in 2019.
“By early March, the word was being looked up an average of 4,000% more” than in the previous year, Merriam-Webster’s announcement continued.
The dictionary also noted other search spikes coinciding with other major events of this year, including “coronavirus,” “mamba” — which surged after the January death of Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant — and “icon”, following the deaths of Congressman John Lewis in July and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September.
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