Quar. Rona. Pandy. Locky D. However you want to dress this thing up, it all comes down to one word: Pandemic. Today, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com officially revealed that 2020 has gotten the Word Of The Year it so disastrously earned and the Word Of The Year we all fully deserve. According to both publications, searches for “pandemic” began rising in January with the first reported case of COVID-19, increased exponentially in February with the first case in the U.S., and shot up wildly in March when the World Health Organization officially classified COVID-19 as a pandemic.
Having “pandemic” be the word of 2020 is fitting for a year in which each day feels like a week and each week feels like a month and somehow this fabled aforementioned “March” seems like a decade ago. And yet, for all the grimness implied by 2020's Word Of The Year, at least the honor (?) didn’t go to some other annoying word like “webinar” or “sourdough.” So there’s that. Here are some additional fun facts from Merriam-Webster about 2020's Word Of The Year:
The first big spike in dictionary lookups for pandemic took place on February 3rd, the same day that the first COVID-19 patient in the U.S. was released from a Seattle hospital. That day, pandemic was looked up 1,621% more than it had been a year previous, but close inspection of the dictionary data shows that searches for the word had begun to tick up consistently starting on January 20th, the date of the first positive case in the U.S.
People were clearly paying attention to the news and to early descriptions of the nature of this disease. That initial February spike in lookups didn’t fall off—it grew. By early March, the word was being looked up an average of 4,000% over 2019 levels. As news coverage continued, alarm among the public was rising.
On March 11th, the World Health Organization officially declared “that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” and this is the day that pandemic saw the single largest spike in dictionary traffic in 2020, showing an increase of 115,806% over lookups on that day in 2019. What is most striking about this word is that it has remained high in our lookups ever since, staying near the top of our word list for the past ten months—even as searches for other related terms, such as coronavirus and COVID-19, have waned.