Updated Nov 30, 2020 - Politics & Policy

"Pandemic" is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and mobile website are displayed September 23, 2016 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Photo: Joanne K. Watson/Merriam-Webster via Getty Images

Merriam-Webster announced Monday that "pandemic" is its word of the year.

The big picture: Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, told AP that after the World Health Organization declared on March 11 the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic, searches for the word on Merriam-Webster.com were 115,806% higher than for the same period in 2019.

For the record: Runners up for word of the year based on lookup surges related to the pandemic were "coronavirus," "quarantine" and "asymptomatic," per AP.

  • Non-virus considerations that saw spikes included "defund," in relation to the "defund the police" campaign, "antebellum" after country group Lady A dropped the word from their name because of its association with pre-Civil War slavery and "mamba," following the January death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant — who was known as the "Black Mamba."

Worth noting: The WHO declared on Feb. 11 "a new name" for the coronavirus: "COVID-19." Merriam-Webster included the word plus information related to it on its site 34 days later.

  • "That's the shortest period of time we’ve ever seen a word go from coinage to entry," Sokolowski told AP.

Flashback: Merriam-Webster's 2019 word of the year: "They"

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details of words that were runners up and on the COVID-19 entry.

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