‘Pandemic’ is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

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“Obvious.” Adjective. Definition: This.

Every year, Merriam-Webster selects one word from the dictionary that their online community has searched the most. This word is often indicative of the overall social climate of that year. 2019’s word was “they,” 2018’s word was “Justice,” and 2017’s word was “Feminism.” Today, Merriam-Webster announced what the most-searched word of 2020 is, and I have a sneaking suspicion you could guess what it was even if you hadn’t already read the title of this article. Yep, it’s “Pandemic.”

“That probably isn’t a big shock,” Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, told The Associated Press.

“Often the big news story has a technical word that’s associated with it and in this case, the word pandemic is not just technical but has become general. It’s probably the word by which we’ll refer to this period in the future,” he said.

Obviously, when the WHO officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health crisis in March, pandemic-related searches skyrocketed. However, searches for the word on Merriam-Webster were actually trending as early as January when the first reports were coming out of Wuhan.

As Merriam-Webster’s announcement of the Word of the Year explains, “the Greek roots of this word tell a clear story: pan means “all” or “every,” and dēmos means “people”; its literal meaning is “of all the people.” The related word epidemic comes from roots that mean “on or upon the people.” The two words are used in ways that overlap, but in general usage a pandemic is an epidemic that has escalated to affect a large area and population.”

“This has been a year unlike any other (the word unprecedented also had a significant spike in March), and pandemic is the word that has connected the worldwide medical emergency to the political response and to our personal experience of it all,” they added.

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