In what will come as a surprise to almost no one, Merriam-Webster has announced its word of the year—and it is “pandemic.” America’s leading chronicler of words announced 2020’s pick today, noting, “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 picks its annual word of the year based on a statistical analysis of words that are looked up on its online platforms “in extremely high numbers” and which show “a significant year-over-year increase in traffic.” The company said the first big spike in “pandemic” searches came on February 3, 2020—the day the first American COVID-19 patient was released from the hospital. That day saw “pandemic” lookups rise 1,621% above the previous year.
And on March 11, 2020, lookups of “pandemic” spiked even higher—115,806%, as a matter of fact. That’s the day the World Health Organization said “COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”
While “pandemic” as the 2020 word of the year isn’t much of a shocker, here are the 11 runners-up, some of which are a little more surprising, yet many of which relate to the train wreck of a year 2020 has been.