Merriam-Webster names 'pandemic' the word of the year for 2020

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
(Image credit: Joanne K. Watson/Merriam-Webster via Getty Images)

Merriam-Webster has selected the word of the year for 2020, and it's the obvious choice.

The company on Monday picked "pandemic" as its 2020 word of the year, saying the term received a massive 115,806 percent spike in searches in March compared to a year earlier, The Associated Press reports. That spike came on the day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, Merriam-Webster said, though smaller spikes had occurred earlier in the year.

"Sometimes a single word defines an era, and it's fitting that in this exceptional — and exceptionally difficult — year, a single word came immediately to the fore as we examined the data that determines what our word of the year will be," Merriam-Webster said.

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Among the numerous runners up were terms related to the COVID-19 pandemic like "coronavirus," "quarantine," and "asymptomatic." But another runner up was "defund," which Merriam-Webster said saw a more than 6,000 percent increase in lookups in 2020 amid calls to "defund the police."

The word "mamba" also saw a spike in searchers following the death of Kobe Bryant, who was nicknamed "Black Mamba," and "malarkey," a word used frequently by President-elect Joe Biden, saw an uptick in searches in 2020 as well. The other runners up were "kraken," "antebellum," "schadenfreude," "irregardless," and "icon."

Meanwhile, Dictionary.com also picked "pandemic" as its word of the year, with senior research editor John Kelly telling The Associated Press, "It seems maybe a little bit obvious, and that's fair to say, but think about life before the pandemic. Things like pandemic fashion would have made no sense. The pandemic as an event created a new language for a new normal."

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