(Reuters) – 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.
“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,” the dictionary publisher said.
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 March 11 when the World Health Organization officially labeled 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.
Last year’s winner was “they” as used to describe someone who does not identify as male nor female. That follows winners “justice” in 2018, “feminism” in 2017 and “surreal” in 2016.