At a time when we’ve all been forced to shelter at home, the Internet has become even a bigger marketplace of information, and our dependence on it only grew proportionally. We made billions of queries for every minute we were stuck indoors, but no word has been searched online more frequently during this period of uncertainty than this word: “pandemic”.
That’s right, pandemic is the Word of the Year according to the two biggest digital dictionaries, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com.
In Dictionary.com’s case, inquiries about the meaning of pandemic surged last March 11, around the time that the World Health Organization used the term to describe the COVID-19 outbreak. On that day, the website recorded a whopping 13,575% increase in searches for the word “pandemic” compared to the same date in 2019.
Things weren’t much different over at Merriam-Webster, whose recorded number of searches for the term skyrocketed by 115,806% compared to the same date of the previous year.
In the same vein that people looked up the term to bridge their curiosities, pandemic is joined by a bunch of other related medical terms which users looked up at an overwhelming frequency: quarantine, coronavirus, and asymptomatic, as well as lingos concerning COVID-19’s subsequent economic effects such as furlough, lockdown, and nonessential.
From this cluster of words, our everyday language continued to transform, with our glossary welcoming now-commonplace phrases such as social distancing, contact tracing, immuno-compromised, community transmission, and flattening the curve. To wit, Merriam-Webster this year recognized the term “COVID-19” as being the fastest term to be included in the dictionary after being coined, taking only 34 days before it was welcomed in its word list.
Indeed, both dictionaries’ Word of the Year reflects our rapidly transforming lives. Let’s just hope next year’s WOTY has a slightly better backstory to it.