Guess what! 2020’s word of the year is here, and it’s depressing!

Thank you Merriam-Webster and for this reminder of our collective cultural pain.

by Roisin Lanigan
01 December 2020, 11:37am

Let’s be honest, 2020’s Word of the Year was never going to be particularly uplifting. It’s been a shit one! And thus, we get a shit word to go along with the past 11 months of collective hell. 

Merriam-Webster and have dropped their 2020 Word of the Year, and it is, wait for it… “pandemic”. The reasoning behind the choice is fairly self-explanatory: both publishers say that the word has come to define the past year of our lives, more so than anything else (presumably the other choices included “quarantine”, “vaccine”, “dissociation”, “anxiety” and “Netflix”). 

“At the start of 2020, it was unthinkable that parents would need to have a serious conversation about the word ‘pandemic’ — a word which may have previously felt like a term from the history books — to their children around the dinner table,” writes of the announcement. “It was unfathomable that, by the year’s end, the word ‘pandemic’; would become part of our everyday speech to the point of overfamiliarity, even fatigue. How rare it is for the origin of a word to prove so literal. Without a doubt, the ‘pandemic’ affected all of us, all over the world, in nearly all aspects of our lives.”

We love the reminder. But truly, it was the only choice for 2020. Since the coronavirus pandemic began to dominate our lives, being designated as an official global pandemic on 11 March, searches for the term have skyrocketed by an incredible 115,806%. Neat!

“‘Pandemic’ is not only an important medical term; it’s likely that this period of time will be forever known by this word,” added Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster. “[The choice] probably isn’t a big shock. The words that rise to prominence when we examine our data at the year’s end always say something about our collective experience.”

“Pandemic” is just the latest in a recent trend of depressing year-defining words. 2019’s instalment was the not-technically-one-word word of the year “climate emergency”, while 2018’s was the similarly cheerful “toxic”. I have finished writing this article and I am now going to lie down in a dark room for an indeterminate amount of time and maybe scream.