For the first time, two dictionary companies on Monday – Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com – declared the same word as their tops: pandemic. The Oxford English Dictionary did not select a single word for 2020, claiming instead that “2020 is a year that cannot be perfectly fitted into a single ‘word of the year’. ”
The pandemic “probably isn’t a big shock,” Peter Sokolowski, editor-in-chief of Merriam-Webster, told The Associated Press ahead of the announcement.
“Often the great story has a technical word associated with it and in this case the word pandemic is not only technical but has become general. said.
John Kelly, research editor at Dictionary.com, told The Associated Press before announcing the news that searches on the site for a pandemic increased by more than 13,500% on March 11, the day that The World Health Organization has declared an outbreak of the novel coronavirus a global health emergency.
The daily spike, he said, was “massive, but even more telling is how well it has supported significant volumes of research throughout the year.”
Month after month, searches for the pandemic were more than 1,000% higher than usual. For about half the year, the word was in the top 10 percent of all searches on Dictionary.com, Kelly said.
Likewise, on Merriam-Webster.com, searches for the pandemic on March 11 were 115,806% higher than the peaks recorded on the same date last year, Sokolowski said.
Pandemic, which has Latin and Greek roots, is a combination of “pan” for everyone and “demos” for people or the population, he said. The latter is the same root of “democracy,” Sokolowski said. The word pandemic dates back to the mid-1600s, used broadly for “universal” and more specifically to refer to disease in a medical text from the 1660s, he said.
It was after the plagues of the Middle Ages, Sokolowski said.
He attributes the research traffic for the pandemic not entirely to researchers who did not know what it meant, but also to those looking for more details, or for inspiration or the convenience of knowing.
“We see that the word love is searched around on Valentine’s Day and the word cornucopia is searched on Thanksgiving,” Sokolowski said. “We see a word as a surreal peak when a moment of national tragedy or shock occurs. It is the idea that dictionaries are the start of putting your mind in order. ”
Merriam-Webster began to designate a word of the year in 2008, with “rescue”. The company’s word of the year for 2019 was ‘they’, when a changing use of the personal pronoun was a hot topic and searches increased 313% in 2019 from the previous year.
Dictionary.com has been in the Word Game of the Year since 2010, with “change”. His Word of the Year in 2019 was “existential” in a year of climate change, gun violence, the very nature of democracy, and an anguished little movie star named Forky of Disney’s Toy story 4 helped propel research peaks.
Oxford went with two words last year: climate emergency.
Kelly, Sokolowski and Oxford Languages noted other worthy research trends beyond the pandemic. After the May 25 death of George Floyd below the knee of a Minneapolis cop, words about racial justice spiked, including fascism, anti-fascism, defund and white fragility, Kelly said. .
“There was no way for us to leave that out of the conversation this year,” he said.
Oxford included a range in its report, from “Karen” to “QAnon”.
But it was all pandemics that ultimately won the annual word contest.
Jennifer Steeves-Kiss, Managing Director of Dictionary.com, said one of the key ingredients in the site’s word of the year search was sustained interest over time. The pandemic has met this standard.
“It has affected families, our work, the economy,” she said. “It really became the logical choice. It became the context in which we had a dialogue throughout 2020. It is the starting line of the speech.