Following Dictionary.com naming pandemic the 2020 Word of the Year, the leading online dictionary turned to its users to determine how they would sum up this unprecedented year, and the choice was, well, unsurprising. Unprecedented received the most user submissions for the site’s People’s Choice 2020 Word of the Year, beating out a number of other words to describe the circumstances and feelings of 2020. Additionally, Lexico (lexico.com) has also unveiled its first-ever Word of the Year, quarantine, and its accompanying Spanish translation, cuarentena.
“What’s particularly fascinating about unprecedented from a language perspective is the life cycle the word has had this year,” said John Kelly, Senior Research Editor at Dictionary.com. “The pandemic, the protests, the presidential election, the extreme climate episodes—2020 sent us searching for a word that could do justice to the scale and pace of all this upheaval. We landed on unprecedented, and this was borne out both in lookups as well as in all the emails, ads, and headlines reminding us we’re living in unprecedented times. Unprecedented became a cliché, and now the joke is that unprecedented needs to be sent into retirement. And while overuse has sapped some of its power, unprecedented just won’t go away. How better to describe 2020? This shows just how much we humans hunger to find the right word for trying times, how sensitive we are to language use—and how not even a pandemic can put an end to that great, unifying pastime of complaining about our language pet peeves.”
While unprecedented may have taken the top spot, user submissions for the People’s Choice Word of the Year also included a number of COVID-19-related words, such as lockdown and social distancing, that have become part of daily vocabulary, as well as words that touched on the emotions people have felt during the pandemic. For the complete list of honorable mentions, visit https://www.dictionary.com/e/peoples-choice-word-of-the-year-2020/. Highlights include:
There is no shortage of choices when it comes to words to describe 2020, and while pandemic and unprecedented came out on top for Dictionary.com, Lexico also announced its first Word of the Year, quarantine, and its Spanish translation, cuarentena. Defined as “a state, period, or place of isolation in which people who may have been exposed to infectious disease are placed,” the word quarantine has stood at the center of the profound ways Covid-19 changed society and language in 2020.
The largest spike in searches for quarantine across Lexico’s dictionaries occurred on March 18, coinciding with many of the first government lockdown orders and guidelines in response to the coronavirus. That day, just one week after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, lookups for quarantine surged 15,180% compared to the beginning of 2020. User interest in quarantine maintained significant volume through the year, averaging a 323% increase relative to data available for 2019. Searches for the Spanish translation cuarentena jumped 1,800% in Lexico’s Spanish dictionary on April 28.
“At the beginning of 2020, a technical word like quarantine was remote from most of us,” Kelly continued. “For many, it evoked scary images of people in hazmat suits and viral disease disaster films like Contagion. But the pandemic quickly made quarantine a core part of our everyday life and language. It also inspired incredible wordplay, from quaranteam to the Spanish cuarenpena. And while hope is imminent, many of us are still waiting to come out of quarantine at the end of 2020, a situation that only reinforced Lexico’s choice of the word as its first-ever Word of the Year.”
Each site’s selections of a Word of the Year are separate, distinct efforts.
- For Lexico’s Word of the Year, visit: https://www.lexico.com/explore/word-of-the-year
- For a version of the article in Spanish-language translation, visit “La Palabra del Año 2020 de Lexico” at https://www.lexico.com/es/grammar/la-palabra-del-ano
- For Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year, visit: https://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-year/
- For Oxford Language’s “2020 Words of an Unprecedented Year,” visit: https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/2020/