Merriam-Webster announces 'pandemic' as 2020 Word of the Year

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People wearing protective face coverings to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the city centre, near to an electronic poster displaying Covid-19 information in Hull, north-east England on November 18, 2020.
People wearing protective face coverings to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the city centre, near to an electronic poster displaying Covid-19 information in Hull, north-east England on November 18, 2020.
PHOTO: Oli Scarff/AFP

NEW YORK – The 2020 prize for Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year went to an obvious choice: pandemic.

The term had the most online dictionary lookups of any word, Merriam-Webster said on its website, after a year in which at least 1.4 million people globally have died from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The dictionary publisher said:

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.

Pandemic is defined 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," according to Merriam-Webster.com.

The word’s Greek roots are "pan", meaning all or every and "demos", meaning people, Merriam-Webster said.

Dictionary lookups skyrocketed on 11 March when the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially labelled Covid-19 a pandemic.

The word "saw the single largest spike in dictionary traffic in 2020, showing an increase of 115 806% over lookups on that day in 2019" said the company, founded in 1831.

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