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'Pandemic' is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year

'Pandemic' is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year
Computer-generated Image of the coronavirus. The word "pandemic" was named Word of the Year by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary Monday while the coronavirus was the first runner-up. Photo by Felipe Esquivel Reed/Wikimedia Commons

Nov. 30 (UPI) -- "Pandemic" is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2020, which saw a dramatic interest this year since the arrival of the coronavirus and continued rise throughout the year, the dictionary said Monday.

Several of the 11 runner-up words were connected to the outbreak as well -- including coronavirus, quarantine and asymptomatic.

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"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 as we examined the data that determines what our Word of the Year will be," Merriam-Webster said in a statement.

Pandemic saw a 1,621% spike in the number of times it was looked up on Feb. 3, when news broke about the first coronavirus patient in the United States leaving a Seattle hospital.

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"People were clearly paying attention to the news and to early descriptions of the nature of this disease," the dictionary said. "That initial February spike in look-ups didn't fall off -- it grew. By early March, the word was being looked up an average of 4,000% over 2019 levels. As news coverage continued, alarm among the public was rising."

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"Coronavirus" was the first runner-up for Word of the Year. The dictionary said even with the virus raging overseas, the word still showed up little on social media until the first case in the United States on Jan. 20. Its largest spike came March 19, when it was looked up 162,551% more than in 2019.

"Quarantine" ranked as the fifth runner-up on Merriam-Webster's list, while "asymptomatic" ranked No. 8.

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Another word, schadenfreude, was also coronavirus-related. Schadenfreude, which means "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others," spiked in October on news that President Donald Trump had contracted the coronavirus.

Not all the top words were related to the pandemic. The word "defund" earned the second runner-up spot, connected to calls by Black Lives Matter and other social justice groups to "defund the police" after the death of George Floyd in police custody this past summer.

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant lead to the large jump for the word "mamba," which took the third runner-up spot for word of the year. Bryant, whose nickname was "Black Mamba," died in a helicopter crash in January with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.

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Other runner-up words included "kraken," as in the name of Seattle's new NHL team; "antebellum," connected with the country music group Lady Antebellum that changed its name; "irregardless"; "icon," which peaked during the deaths of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and U.S. Rep. John Lewis; and "malarkey," a favorite word of President-elect Joe Biden.

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