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Merriam-Webster’s key word for 2020 is not shocking: a pandemic



NEW YORK (AP) – If you had to choose a word that rose above most in 2020, which word would it be?

Ding, ding, ding: Merriam-Webster announces ‘pandemic’ on Monday as his word of the year for 2020

“This is probably not a big shock,” Peter Sokolowski, editor-in-chief of Merriam-Webster, told The Associated Press.

“Often in the big news there is a technical word that is related to it and in this case the word pandemic is not just technical, but has become common. This is probably the word we will use to refer to this period in the future, “he said.

The word became urgent in March, when the coronavirus crisis was declared a pandemic, but began to increase on Merriam-Webster.com in early January and again in February, when the first American deaths and outbreaks of cruise ships occurred.

On March 1

1, when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, searches on the pandemic site jump sharply. Interest in the site for this word remains significantly high throughout the year, Sokolowski said.

Overall, Sokolowski means that the search for a pandemic on March 11 was 115,806% higher than the search made on the same date last year.

The pandemic, rooted in Latin and Greek, is a combination of “pan” for all and “demonstrations” for people or populations. The latter is the same root of “democracy”, Sokolowski noted. The word pandemic dates back to the mid-1600s, widely used as a “universal” and specifically as a disease in a medical text in the 1660s, he said.

That was after the disasters of the Middle Ages, Sokolowski said.

He attributes pandemic search traffic not entirely to searchers who didn’t know what it meant, but also to those looking for more detail, either for inspiration or comfort.

“We see that the word love is sought around Valentine’s Day, and the word horn of plenty – on Thanksgiving,” Sokolowski said. “We see the word as a surreal peak when there is a moment of national tragedy or shock. The idea is for dictionaries to be the beginning of the ordering of your thoughts. “

Merriam-Webster acted quickly in March to add and update records on its site for pandemic-related words. While the “coronavirus” has been in the dictionary for decades, “COVID-19” was invented in February. Thirty-four days later, Merriam-Webster included it online, along with several dozen other records that were revised to reflect the health emergency.

“This is the shortest period of time we have ever seen a word go from coins to entry,” Sokolowski said. “The word had this urgency.”

The coronavirus was among the best in the rankings of the year when it entered the mass stream. Quarantine, asymptomatic, mamba, kraken, defund, antebelum, indifference, icon, schadenfreude and malarkey were also runners-up based on the search for peaks around specific events.

Quarantine is especially interesting for verbal maniacs such as Sokolowski, a lexicographer. With Italian roots, it was used during the Black Death of the 1300s for the period when a new ship arriving in port would have to wait outside the city to prevent disease. The “neighborhood” in quarantine comes from 40 for the required 40 days.

Mamba spikes occurred after the January death of Kobe Bryant, whose nickname was Black Mamba. A massive search took place for Kraken in July, after the new franchise of the National Hockey League in Seattle chose the mythical sea monster as its name, called by the fans.

The change of Lady A’s name to Lady A sparked a vocabulary in June, as malarkey received a boost from President-elect Joe Biden, who likes to use the word. The icon was in front and in the center of the headlines after the deaths of US Representative John Lewis and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

The Merriam-Webster site has about 40 million unique users per month and about 100 million page views per month.


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