It’s that time of the year when dictionaries choose the word of the year. Two major dictionaries, Merriam Webster and Dictionary.com have chosen pandemic as the 2020 word of the year on Monday.

Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com made their choices after Oxford Languages issued a 16-page report which said a number of once-specialized terms had entered the mainstream during the Covid-19 crisis.

Merriam-Webster said the decision was based on the “extremely high numbers” of people who had looked up the word in its online dictionary in 2020. The word showed a major increase in the searches. Searches for the word ‘pandemic’ on the dictionary’s website rose more than 115,000 per cent on March 11 compared to a year earlier when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 as a pandemic.

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster said: Pandemic “probably isn’t a big shock. Often the big news story has a technical word that’s associated with it and in this case, the word pandemic is not just technical but has become general. It’s probably the word by which we’ll refer to this period in the future.”

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Other top searches on the site were related to the pandemic, including asymptomatic, quarantine and coronavirus. Pandemic lies its root in Latina and Greek, a combination of “pan,” for all, and “demos,” for people or population. The latter is the same root of “democracy,” Sokolowski said. The word pandemic dates to the mid-1600s used broadly for “universal” and more specifically to disease in a medical text in the 1660s, he said.

Dictionary.com research editor John Kelly told the AP that searches for the word have remained high throughout the year. For about half of the year, the company said pandemic was in the top 10 per cent of all search requests. “The pandemic as an event created a new language for a new normal,” Kelly said.

Britain’s Cambridge Dictionary chose “quarantine.” It said searches for the word increased in March when many countries ordered public restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19. Whereas, Collins Dictionary, chose “lockdown.”

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