In posts on their respective websites Monday, November 30th, both publications explained their reasoning, with Dictionary.com calling “pandemic” the one word that “kept running through the profound and manifold ways our lives have been upended — and our language so rapidly transformed.” While Merriam-Webster said, “pandemic is the word that has connected the worldwide medical emergency to the political response and to our personal experience of it all.”
Merriam-Webster said searches for the word began rising in January as the virus spread, but the first big spike in searches happened February 3rd when the first known Covid-19 patient in the U.S. was released from a Seattle hospital. The day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic, March 11th, Merriam-Webster said searches for the word shot up 115,806% compared to 2019, while Dictionary.com said searches went up 13,575% compared to 2019. Both outlets said searches for “pandemic” have remained consistently high throughout 2020.
In its post, Dictionary.com noted that the pandemic also gave rise to a whole new glossary of terms, capturing the way Covid-19 permeated all facets of society: “asymptomatic,” “CDC,” “coronavirus,” “furlough,” “quarantine,” “herd immunity,” “hydroxychloroquine,” “pod,” “social distancing,” “infodemic,” and “flatten the curve.”
Additionally, Dictionary.com pointed out how the pandemic prompted a wave of so-called “coronacoinages” — new slang terms, puns, portmanteaus, and other new words/usages that sprouted up around the pandemic. These include shortenings like “rona” and “quar” (for “coronavirus” and “quarantine,” respectively) as well as “anti-masker,” “corona baby,” “covidiot,” “Zoom fatigue,” and “the Before Times.”
“Supported by efforts of our editors to bring clarity and context to these terms and trends in articles and other content, our lexicographers updated our dictionary — twice this year — to document this extensive language change,” Dictionary.com said. “We cannot overstate how rare it is for so many entries, so abruptly, to be added to the dictionary.”