The Word of the Year: Pandemic

Luna Valayannopoulos-Akrivou, Around School Editor

The definition of “pandemic” as “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area” has reportedly been the most googled definition of 2020 on Merriam Webster. These searches act as a reminder that the “new normal” lifestyle in the pandemic is nowhere near ordinary. As Jack Keane ’21 best put it, “The word reminds me of being stuck and having no control over a situation.”

The first boom in the search of the word in the United States took place on February 3rd, 2020, the same day the first COVID-19 patient information was released. It was reported that the number of times the word “pandemic” was searched world-wide outpaced previous years with an average of 1,621% more searches. However, the word had begun its constant increase in searches starting January 20th, corresponding to the date the first positive COVID-19 case was announced in the US. Sophomore Helen Kidanemariam’s immediate reaction to the pandemic was that “Everything was going to go back to normal after our two weeks.” Keane shared a similar first impression and admitted that “It seemed impossible to me that it would ever reach Cambridge.” However, the impossible turned into a seemingly endless reality.

The number of searches only increased from that point forward, and by early March, “pandemic” had been looked up approximately 4,000%  more times than in 2019. By March 11th, with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) categorization of COVID-19 as a pandemic, the word witnessed the highest spike out of any word in the dictionary with over 115,806% searches over 2019 levels. Ever since, “pandemic” has gradually claimed its spot amongst the top 10 most searched up words, alongside terms like “coronavirus” and “COVID-19.” These terms mark history as exemplifying one of the few instances where a word has connected a medical emergency, with a political response, to a personal experience.

While the word was nowhere near as popular before the beginning of the decade, its definition has been personalized and individuals have amended it in accordance to their experiences. Keane points out that, “I love reading the words ‘once the pandemic is over.’ It gives me so much hope.” Even though we have all been stuck at home, the word “pandemic” has brought the global community closer together, promoting a new wave of globalization, not amongst the world leaders and politicians, but the ordinary citizen. While the lack of social interactions are detrimental in the pandemic, Kidanemariam remarks, “I’d rather wait until everything gets better to prioritize safety for my family and I, my friends, and also others that might be exposed to us.”

With opportunities missed, absent memories, and travel plans cancelled, one thing is for sure, 2021 will be the year to make up for all the time missed. As Kidanemariam put it, “We all deserve it.”