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Dictionary.com reveals People’s Choice 2020 Word of the Year — and it has nothing to do with COVID

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 12/16/2020 Nelson Oliveira

What better word to describe an unprecedented year than... unprecedented?

That was the conclusion of thousands of Dictionary.com users who cast a vote for the website’s People’s Choice 2020 Word of the Year, the online lexicon revealed Wednesday.

“Unprecedented” was the top submission this year, edging out a series of virus-related terms, including “pandemic,” which was Dictionary.com’s own Word of the Year.

John Kelly, the website’s senior research editor, said “unprecedented” is a fascinating choice because of its life cycle throughout the year.

“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,” Kelly said in a news release.

“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,” he said.


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The runners-up from the popular vote were “lockdown,” “chaos” and “quarantine,” three words that reflect the prominence of public health measures against COVID-19 as well as the extraordinary state of confusion and disorder in Washington, D.C., during a historic presidential election.

Dictionary searches for coronavirus-related words skyrocketed in the early days of the pandemic and quickly became part of our daily vocabulary.

“At the beginning of 2020, a technical word like quarantine was remote from most of us,” Kelly said. “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.”

graphical user interface, application: Dictionary.com © Shutterstock Dictionary.com

Dictionary.com (Shutterstock/)

In addition to revealing its users’ top submission Wednesday, Dictionary.com also announced that “quarantine” — along with its Spanish translation, “cuarentena” — was selected as the first Word of the Year by Lexico, a collaboration between the website and Oxford Languages.

The publisher behind the popular Oxford English Dictionary did not choose one word for this year, as it usually does. Instead, Oxford Languages unveiled a list of words last month to highlight how much the English language had to adapt in 2020.

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