Merriam-Webster has announced its word of the year, and to no one’s surprise, it is “pandemic.” Merriam-Webster based their choice on a statistical analysis of the words looked up in most in their online dictionary, as well as year-over-year increase in traffic. And the choice was clear. Said Merriam-Webster in a press release, “Sometimes a single word defines an era, and it’s fitting that in this exceptional—and exceptionally difficult—year, a single word comes immediately to the fore as we examined the data that determines what our Word of the Year will be.”
According to Merriam-Webster, searches for “pandemic” began to increase starting on January 20th, the date of the first positive COVID-19 case in the U.S., and spiked on February 3rd, the day the first COVID patient was released from a Seattle hospital. By early March, the word was looked up an average of 4,000% over 2019 levels, and on March 11th, when the World Health Organization officially declared “that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” the word saw an increase of 115,806% over lookups on that day in 2019. All this talk of spikes and increases is making me panic a little bit. It’s reminding me of—what’s the word?
Interestingly, “pandemic” has stayed near the top of Merriam-Webster’s popular word search for the past ten months, even as searches for “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” have tapered off. But as a vaccine gets approved and distributed, and as we write the definition of “pandemic” down on a Post-It, hopefully we can flatten the curve.
Runners-up include “defund,” “mamba,” “kraken,” “quarantine,” “malarkey,” and “schadenfreude.”