The Oxford English Dictionary didn't even try to name a word of the year.
Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster have settled on one word to sum up all of 2020. And the winner is—"pandemic."
It's a word most of us knew but that few of us had given serious thought to before March, having never before lived through a global emergency on the scale of COVID-19. But the word "pandemic" (whose Greek roots are pan [“all”] and dēmos [“people”]) has become a common part of our daily vocabulary. It's the first time that two dictionaries both settled on the same word for Word of the Year.
According to Merriam-Webster, pandemic's definition 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."
In early March, Merriam-Webster reports, the word "pandemic" was being looked up around 4,000% over its average look-up rate in 2019. Then, on March 11, the day the WHO (World Health Organization) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the word was looked up 115,806% more than on March 11, 2019 (ahhh, those were the days!).
Pandemic may have been the final word of choice for 2020, but the pandemic itself had a huge effect on the evolution of the English language as a whole.
"As the pandemic upended life in 2020, it also dramatically reshaped our language, requiring a whole new vocabulary for talking about our new reality," Dictionary.com explained. "It defined much of the work we did at Dictionary.com this year in order to meet the urgent need for information and explanation amid a fast-changing crisis."
Lexicographers (people who put together dictionaries) were certainly kept on their toes. Some of the newly popular words in 2020 include quarantine, unprecedented, superspreader, herd immunity, furlough, asymptomatic, contact tracing, lockdown, and PPE. Words like "rona" and "Zoom" (used as a verb) are also part of our new reality.
In fact, faced with the task of choosing a single word to sum up this very strange year, Oxford English Dictionary lexicographers gave up, instead naming 16 words for Word of the Year: bushfire, impeachment, acquittal, coronavirus, COVID-19, lockdown, social distancing, reopening, cancel culture, Black Lives Matter, BIPOC, mail-in, Belarusian, moonshot, superspreader, and net zero.
Merriam-Webster's runners-up included defund, Kraken, Mamba, Antebellum, schadenfreude, and malarkey (thanks to Joe Biden!).
Want a peek back to simpler times? Merriam-Webster's 2019 Word of the Year was "they," a nod to non-gender-specific pronouns, while Dictionary.com's 2019 word was "existential."
What word do you think should have been Word of the Year? Tell us in the comments!