Every year, of course, has its buzzwords — often amusing, sometimes frivolous, they come to epitomize what the last 365 were all about, for good or ill, for the world as a whole.
This year, which presented an almost never-ending cavalcade of medical, economic and social crises due to the coronavirus as it spread around the world, doesn’t constitute much of a challenge to the people who work at the world’s largest and most popular online dictionaries.
To no one’s surprise, the word “pandemic” has been declared the unrivaled word of the year after rising to the top in the number of online searches for both dictionary.com and Merrriam-Webster in 2020.
Like tens of thousands of medical terms used the world over, pandemic is of course of Greek origin.
And it came to the fore early on in the year, as the term rose to the top of the most frequently-searched words on both platforms as of February 3, 2020. This also marked the day the first American Covid-19 patient was released from the hospital.
Unsurprisingly, it rose again in the statistics again on March 11, when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to have reached official pandemic status on that fateful day this year.
Dictionary.com released a statement on its website today announcing the word as the one that utterly defines this past year.
“As most of us now know painfully well, a pandemic is defined as ‘a disease prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world.’ And yet, the loss of life and livelihood caused by the COVID-19 pandemic defies definition,” it stated.
“With over 60 million confirmed cases, the pandemic has claimed over one million lives across the globe and is still rising to new peaks. The pandemic has wreaked social and economic disruption on a historic scale and scope, globally impacting every sector of society—not to mention its emotional and psychological toll.
“All other events for most of 2020, from the protests for racial justice to a heated presidential election, were shaped by the pandemic. Despite its hardships, the pandemic inspired the best of our humanity: resilience and resourcefulness in the face of struggle. And we thought 2019 was an existential year…”
For its part, officials at the American dictionary Merriam-Webster said today that the pandemic’s power to affect everyone on the globe is reflected in the very etymology of the word.
“The Greek roots of this word tell a clear story: pan means ‘all’ or ‘every,’ and dēmos means ‘people’; its literal meaning is ‘of all the people. The related word ‘epidemic’ comes from roots that mean ‘on or upon the people,'” they stated.
“The two words are used in ways that overlap, but in general usage a pandemic is an epidemic that has escalated to affect a large area and population.”
Naturally, whether or not they wanted to — most often not — nearly everyone around the world had to become familiar with many medical terms this year in response to all the unfolding events due to the coronavirus across the globe.
Dictionary.com says that the word pandemic spun off many new linguistic terms this year as well. Medical words such as “asymptomatic,” “contact tracing,” and “quarantine” have sadly become part of our milieu now.
And of course there are the dreaded “anti-maskers” and life as we say now, in “the Before Times,” before all this occurred and changed societies forever. “Zoom fatigue,” another ill that was foisted on society as a result of the pandemic, caused by interacting in a disjointed way with screen images, is just another malady this year will come to be known for.
In yet another instance of how very unusual 2020 has been socially, Dictionary.com writes “We cannot overstate how rare it is for so many entries, so abruptly, to be added to the dictionary.”
“The resilience and resourcefulness with which people confronted the pandemic also manifested itself in tremendous linguistic creativity. Throughout 2020, our team has been tracking a growing body of so-called ‘coronacoinages’ that have given expression—and have offered some relief from tragedy, some connection in isolation—to the lived experience of a surreal year.”
As always, the Greeks have a word for it — even if it is one that we would love to never see the lights of day again.