Irregardless, a person would have to have been eaten by a mamba or kraken or living in deep quarantine, staying asymptomatic and avoiding schadenfreude, to think that the coronavirus is malarky and not understand that pandemic was the icon, the 2020 Word of the Year for Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
And that could be a candidate for Worst Sentence of the Year, but it does use 10 of the 12 top words of 2020 in one breath.
Merriam-Webster bases its word choices on the number of searches made for each word and how that number changes from year to year. Searches for the word pandemic picked up on Jan. 20 when the first COVID-19 case was identified in the United States, and skyrocketed on Feb. 3, when the word was looked up 1,621% more than the previous year. Interest stayed high and by early March, searches were up 4,000%, according to Merriam-Webster’s website.
Pandemic derives from the Greek roots of “pan” meaning “all” and “demos” meaning “people.” Pandemic, then, is a disease that spreads across multiple countries and affects large populations of people.
Medical terms don’t often move their way into the popular language, but in 2020, coronavirus did so quickly. By March, the word was being looked up 162,551% more than last year. On a related note, the term COVID-19 had “the distinction of being the fastest term to go from coinage to inclusion in a Merriam-Webster dictionary — the process took only 34 days,” according to the website.
In response to protests regarding police killings of Black people, the word defund, meaning “to withdraw funding from” was searched for 6,059% more than in 2019. The word was used often in talking about how to address police violence.
When Kobe Bryant and nine other people died in a helicopter crash, news reports referred to Bryant by a nickname he had chosen years before, Black Mamba, a fast and deadly venomous snake that lives in trees in sub-Saharan Africa. By the next day, the word was being searched 66,366% more its normally is.
When the new NHL franchise in Seattle chose Kraken as the team name on July 23, searches for the word spiked 123,000% that day. Merriam-Webster notes that “A kraken is a mythical Scandinavian sea monster; the word, which comes from Norwegian dialect, has been used in English since the middle of the 18th century. Krakens have featured in various contexts more familiar to English speakers than Scandinavian folklore, including various iterations of krakens in Marvel comics and a memorable monster in ‘Clash of the Titans.’”
The word got a second boost in November when lawyer Sidney Powell said she would “release the kraken,” meaning she would provide evidence that votes for Trump had been deleted -- evidence that was never provided.
Forms of the word have been used in Italian and other languages since the 14th century, but current interest in quarantine surged in February when passengers on cruise ships were quarantined and states began issuing stay-at-home orders. Searches were up 1,856% over 2019.
When the musical group Lady Antebellum changed its name to Lady A. in June, a first increase in searches occurred and was followed by a second increase in September when the movie “Antebellum” was released. The word means “before the war” but in the U.S. it is often used to mean before the American Civil War, referencing the conditions of slavery at that time.
It’s a German word, pronounced SHAH-dun-froy-duh, and the audio pronunciation for this word was one of the most-clicked on Merriam-Webster’s website this year. Schadenfreude means “enjoyment obtained from the trouble’s of others.”
The word had two spikes in lookups this year. The first was in March when news broke about the college admissions scandal, and the second was on Oct. 2 when President Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The prefix “a” means “not” or “without,” so asymptomatic means “presenting no symptoms of disease.” One of the biggest problems dealing with COVID-19 has been the number of asymptomatic people who can spread the disease without knowing. The word has been searched 1,688% more than last year.
Irregardless word -- which many consider not a word -- makes the grammatical error of a double negative not in a sentence, but within one word. The standard word is regardless, because the prefix “ir” and the suffix “less” both mean “not or no.”
Irregardless is used constantly by millions of people, so Merriam-Webster includes it in the dictionary. The spike this year came in July when actress Jamie Lee Curtis tweeted that Merriam-Webster had just added the word to the dictionary. Others retweeted that notice, even though it has been included in the dictionary since 1934. The celebrity reference gained the word a 464% increase in searches.
An icon is a person who is admired and represents some ideal, according to Merriam-Webster. This year, the deaths of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg caused an increase in use of the term and resulted in 2,205% more lookups than last year.
The word malarkey has been around since the 1920s, but it took Joe Biden using it frequently in debates in 2012, 2016, and 2020, to bring it to public notice. Biden’s use of the word on Oct. 22 during the presidential debate caused a 3.200% increase in searches from last year.