It’s safe to say that the coronavirus pandemic will define 2020.
Literally, as both Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com named “pandemic” their word of the year on Monday, and Oxford Dictionaries has reported that usage of the word “pandemic” spiked by over 57,000% this year. Merriam-Webster saw a 115,806% spike in dictionary traffic for “pandemic” over its 2019 lookups on March 11 of this year, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Dictionary.com saw its “pandemic” searches that day jump 13,575% compared with 2019.
Merriam-Webster defines “pandemic” as “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population.”
What’s more, Collins Dictionary recently bestowed its word-of-the-year title on “lockdown,” while Oxford Dictionaries highlighted several terms related to COVID-19, including “pandemic” and “lockdown,” among the key words of 2020.
“Some might say there are no words to sum up the events of 2020. At Oxford Languages, we think there are too many,” Oxford University Press wrote in a press release last week , explaining how an unprecedented year caused it to break from tradition and highlight several words instead of just one. “It quickly became apparent that 2020 is not a year that could neatly be accommodated in one single ‘word of the year.’ ”
Oxford flagged words and phrases related to COVID-19, such as “shelter-in-place,” “bubbles” or “pods,” as well as “face masks” and “essential workers.”
And “lockdown” has been a popular word across the board. Collins defined the term as “the containment measure implemented by governments around the world to mitigate the spread of COVID-19” in a recent blog post . Its dictionary entry defines the noun as “the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction and access to public spaces.”
And while several other pandemic-related terms made the word-of-the-year shortlist, Collins lexicographers explained in a blog post that “lockdown” took the top spot because “it is a unifying experience for billions of people across the world, who have had, collectively, to play their part in combating the spread of COVID-19.”
What’s more, Collins registered more than a quarter of a million usages of “lockdown” in 2020, compared with just 4,000 last year.
‘[Lockdown] is a unifying experience for billions of people across the world, who have had, collectively, to play their part in combating the spread of COVID-19.’
Indeed, these measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has infected almost 63 million and counting across the globe and killed at least 1.46 million, have impacted just about every aspect of life this year. In the U.S., the temporary closures of nonessential businesses and services in the spring to contain the virus saw tens of millions of Americans lose their jobs. While the U.S. economy is recovering, about 10 million of the 22 million jobs that were lost early in the pandemic still haven’t been recovered, and many businesses, particularly in the restaurant, retail and service industry, have closed for good.
And the lockdowns aren’t over yet.
The autumnal surge in COVID-19 cases in parts of Europe has led to renewed shutdown measures in England, France and Germany, while Italy and Spain have brought back curfews and other restrictions that fall short of lockdowns per se. The U.S. has also seen a spike in infections, averaging 162,007 cases a day in the past week, which is up 8% from the average two weeks ago.
The short list for Collins’s word of the year also included these: coronavirus, BLM (the abbreviation for the Black Lives Matter movement), key worker (also known as an essential worker), furlough, self-isolate and social distancing.
Many of these were also highlighted in the Oxford report, which noted that “remote” and “remotely” have seen more than 300% usage growth since March as more people started working from home. “On mute” and “unmute” also saw a “significant rise” in usage this year as more meetings and get-togethers moved to conference calls and video chats (and participants often forgot to take themselves off of mute). Oxford also saw “Black Lives Matter” and the abbreviated “BLM” rise in usage, as has the use of “conspiracy theory” (which almost doubled between October 2019 and October 2020). The term “QAnon” also rose 960% in the past year.
On the lighter side, while Oxford notes that “Brexit” saw an 80% drop in usage this year, Collins added “Megxit” to its word-of-the-year list; the latter term describes the withdrawal of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, the duchess and duke of Sussex, from their royal duties.
The term TikToker also made the Collins list, describing people who regularly share or appear in TikTok videos as the social-networking app exploded in popularity this year. And the word mukbang, a video or webcast in which someone eats a large quantity of food, also made the list.
This article was originally published on Nov. 10, and has been updated with Merriam-Webster’s and Dictionary.com’s words of the year, as well as the latest coronavirus figures.