The Words of 2020

Merriam-Webster declared

courtesy of cdc.gov

Merriam-Webster declared “pandemic” to be the Word of the Year for 2020.

Sam Renz, World Views editor

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary annually announces a Word of the Year, the single word that sees the greatest increase in searches from the website’s users in that particular year. Now, as we approach the end of 2020, Merriam-Webster has finally announced its Word of the Year for 2020. The winner was none other than “pandemic,” and if that doesn’t define 2020, nothing does. 

As the website explains, searches for the word began to gradually increase on Jan. 20, the day of the first recorded COVID-19 case in the United States, before searches sharply increased on Feb. 3, with a growth of 1,621% when compared to 2019. Then, on Mar. 11, searches for the word had the greatest peak of the entire year. On that day, because the WHO had officially classified COVID-19 as a pandemic, searches for the word increased by 115,806% compared to a year prior. 

Other candidates for the word of the year were also relevant in this year’s most major news stories or events. For example, “defund,” which is defined as “to withdraw funding from,” had a major increase in searches around June, when social justice protests across the entire nation demanded political figures to “defund the police,” leading to more frequent usage of this word in conversations. 

Another word, “Mamba” saw major increases in popularity when beloved NBA player Kobe Bryant, whose nickname was “Black Mamba,” passed away in January. 

“Kraken” also made the list for multiple reasons. In the summer, on Jul. 23, Seattle’s new NHL team declared its name to be “Kraken,” causing searches for this word to skyrocket by 128,000% on that day. In addition to the sports world, dramatic events in the political sphere also drew attention to this word. When Sidney Powell, a lawyer for President Trump, announced that she would “Release the Kraken” by supposedly revealing evidence of mass voter fraud in the 2020 election, this phrase began to trend on Twitter and was searched more on the dictionary. Ironically, no substantial evidence has actually been presented since then, and according to the Department of Homeland Security, the 2020 election was quite secure. 

Multiple other words also tied into the notable political events of 2020, like “quarantine” and “asymptomatic,” two commonly-used words relating to the pandemic, “icon” due to the eulogies of Rep. John Lewis and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and “malarkey,” which was used by Joe Biden during one of the presidential debates.

All of these words that have been trending at some point throughout the year truly encapsulate what the world has gone through in 2020. From the infamous COVID-19 pandemic to various social and political movements, this list was an accurate reflection of people’s common experiences this year.