In the category of “most obvious morsel of news for 2020,” Merriam-Webster (the dictionary company) has announced its “Word of the Year” for 2020, and it’s one that every person on the planet has had to deal with in some fashion over the past 11 months.
And the winner is: pandemic. “That probably isn’t a big shock,” Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, told the Associated Press.
Uh, no it isn’t, Peter. What else could it have been, outside “coronavirus,” “COVID” or maybe “quarantine?”
“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,” Sokolowski said.
Here’s how you know they selected the right word: searches for “pandemic” on March 11 of this year were 115,806% higher than searches for the same word on March 11, 2019.
Want some historic fun facts surrounding the word “pandemic”? Here’s one: The word dates back to the mid-1600s. Back when plagues were becoming a thing. The fast-moving nature of the pandemic in 2020 forced Merriam-Webster to move quickly. Back in March they had to start making updates to their online dictionary site for words related to the pandemic. Believe it or not, the word “coronavirus” had been in the dictionary for decades, but “COVID-19” wasn’t even an actual word until February, and the dictionary had it included in its online edition 34 days later. “That’s the shortest period of time we’ve ever seen a word go from coinage to entry,” Sokolowski said.
Other words that made the actual runner-up list included “asymptomatic” and “defund.”