Merriam-Webster has chosen pandemic as its Word of the Year for 2020.
According to the dictionary and online publishing company, the word’s official meaning is “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.”
Due to COVID-19, Merriam-Webster noticed a significant year-over-year increase in the search for the word, mainly beginning on January 20 — the same month that the first coronavirus-positive patient in the US was discovered in Washington.
According to Merriam-Webster, when the World Health Organization officially declared on March 11 “that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” the word pandemic saw the single largest spike in dictionary traffic in 2020, showing an increase of 115,806% over lookups on that day in 2019.
The word has remained high in lookups ever since, “staying near the top of our word list for the past ten months—even as searches for other related terms, such as coronavirus and COVID-19, have waned.”
Shortlisted words for this year included coronavirus, defund, mamba, kraken, quarantine, antebellum, schadenfreude, asymptomatic, irregardless, icon, and malarkey.