New York: Two major dictionary publishers have chosen pandemic as 2020 word of the year. Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com both declared their choices on Monday.
Merriam-Webster said its decision was based on the “extremely high numbers” of people who had looked up pandemic in its online dictionary in 2020. The word showed a major year-over-year increase in internet traffic, the company said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11. The Merriam-Webster Learners’ Dictionary defines pandemic as an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world.
Searches for pandemic on the Merriam-Webster website rose more than 115,000 per cent on March 11 compared to a year earlier. The dictionary’s choice of pandemic should not come as a shock to anyone, said Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster.
Sokolowski told The Associated Press that major news events often have a technical word related to them. In the case of the Coronavirus crisis, “the word pandemic is not just technical but has become general.” He added that pandemic is also a word that will likely be used in the future to describe this period in history.
Sokolowski noted that pandemic has roots in Latin and Greek. It is a combination of “pan,” meaning for all, and “demos,” for people or population. Pandemic dates to the mid-1600s, when it was used widely for “universal.” Around that time, it also began appearing in medical literature after the plagues of the Middle Ages, he said.
Merriam-Webster said it acted quickly to add new information on words related to pandemic. The dictionary already had “Coronavirus” for many years. But it added “COVID-19” — the disease caused by the Coronavirus — about a month after that term was officially created in February.
In announcing its choice, Dictionary.com said searches for pandemic on its website increased more than 13,000 percent on March 11.
Dictionary.com research editor John Kelly told the AP that searches for the word have remained high throughout the year. For about half of the year, the company said pandemic was in the top 10 percent of all search requests. “The pandemic as an event created a new language for a new normal,” Kelly said.
Other dictionaries also chose COVID-19-related terms as their 2020 word of the year. Britain’s Cambridge Dictionary chose “quarantine.” It said searches for the word increased in March, when many countries ordered public restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Collins Dictionary, another British publisher, chose “lockdown.” It said the word represents a uniting experience for people across the world. Under lockdown in 2020, Collins said “normal public life is suspended” and “we see few people, and fewer places.” It added that lockdown is now seen as “a public health measure.”