‘Quarantine’ Word of the Year

“Quarantine” has been named the 2020 Word of the Year by Cambridge Dictionary.

Cambridge Dictionary said its data shows it was one of the most highly searched words on its website this year.

“Quarantine” was the only word to rank in the top five for both search spikes and overall views, numbering more than 183,000 by early November.

The largest spike in searches totalling 28,545 was seen in the week of March 18 to 24, when many countries around the world went into lockdown as a result of Covid-19, said the publisher, which is part of the University of Cambridge.

People, added Cambridge Dictionary, are now using the word “quarantine” to mean “a general period of time in which people are not allowed to leave their homes or travel freely, so that they do not catch or spread a disease”.

“Quarantine” is being used synonymously with “lockdown”, particularly in the United States, to refer to a situation in which people stay home to avoid catching the disease.

This new sense of the word “quarantine” has now been added to the Cambridge Dictionary, and marks a shift from the existing meanings that relate to containing a person or animal suspected of being contagious; a specific period of time in which a person or animal that has a disease, or may have one, must stay or be kept away from others in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

Cambridge Dictionary publishing manager Wendalyn Nichols said users have been searching for words related to the social and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Quarantine” was closely followed by “lockdown” and “pandemic” on the shortlist for Word of the Year.

“The words that people search for reveal not just what is happening in the world, but what matters most to them in relation to those events.

“Neither ‘coronavirus’ nor ‘Covid-19’ appeared among the words that Cambridge Dictionary users mostly searched for this year.

“We believe this indicates that people have been fairly confident about what the virus is.

“Instead, users have been searching for words related to the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, as evidenced not just by quarantine but by the two runners-up on the shortlist for Word of the Year: lockdown, and pandemic itself, ” she added in a statement on Nov 24.

This year, the most highly viewed “About Words” – the Cambridge Dictionary blog written by language usage experts to help learners gain confidence in using vocabulary related to specific topics – was “Quarantine, carriers and face masks: The language of the coronavirus”.

Garnering almost 80,000 views in the first six weeks after it was posted, it now ranks as the ninth most viewed “About Words” post in the nearly 10 years that the blog has been live.

And in a recent poll on its “New Words” blog, 33% of respondents said quaranteam – combining quarantine and team, meaning a group of people who go into quarantine together – should be added to the dictionary.

Other suggestions include the portmanteau words quaranteen, coronnial and lockstalgia.

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