To the surprise of absolutely no one, Merriam-Webster has named ‘pandemic‘ its word of the year (WOTY). The title is given to the most important word or expression in general vocabulary during a specific year, which was ‘climate emergency’ in 2019, and ‘toxic’ in 2018.
Alongside ‘pandemic’, Merriam-Webster has also released a list of 11 of the most searched-for words in 2020. Given how the year has gone, it is unsurprising that nearly half of these words are pandemic- and social activism-related. How many of these most words have you used this year?
1) Coronavirus: aka. the ‘rona, aka COVID-19: “the mild to severe respiratory illness that is caused by a coronavirus.” Fun fact: COVID-19 was looked up so many times that it was added to the dictionary in just 34 days.
2) Defund: “to withdraw funding from”, a surprisingly difficult concept to grasp given the related word, refund, as in to defund the police and refund the community.
3) Mamba: as in Black Mamba, the late, basketball great Kobe Bryant, whose tragic death in late January led to a spike in searches for this word, a 934% increase over 2019.
4) Kraken: the name of Seattle’s new NHL team that caused a one-day search spike of 128,000% on the day of its announcement. It is such a cool name that one might not even bring up its Scandinavian roots, or that there are no krakens in the Pacific Northwest.
5) Quarantine: the most performed activity of 2020. It was first used during the pandemic of bubonic plague in the 14th century, when boats had to wait 40 days at port to ensure that they were not bringing in disease. If you think you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, do the right thing and quarantine for 14 days (that is a lot less than 40 days!).
6) Antebellum: In the US, it is used to mean “existing before the American Civil War”, a period characterised by the enslavement of Black Americans. Traffic spiked in June, when musical trio Lady Antebellum announced a name change to Lady A. Unfortunately, it was already the professional moniker of Anita White, a blues and gospel singer from Seattle. There have been lawsuits and counter lawsuits since.
7) Schadenfreude: This word spiked in popularity on 2 October 2020, when it was announced that President Trump had contracted COVID-19. Meaning to get enjoyment out of from someone’s troubles, it is pronounced /SHAH-dun-froy-duh/.
8) Asymptomatic: aka. the reason you need to wear a mask and work from home if you can, to minimise contact with others. Seriously, stop going to the office, and stop travelling.
9) Irregardless: aka. everybody’s linguistic Bug Bear, because it means the same as regardless, which is itself, already a perfectly fine word.
10) Icon: see also, Beyonce. That is all.
11) Malarkey: A little a bit old-fashioned, and a little bit Irish-American, but also definitely 100% American. According to Merriam-Webster, malarkey was first used in the US in the 1920s and has resurfaced in popular culture due to President-Elect Biden’s fondness for it.
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