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Cambridge Dictionary names ‘quarantine’ word of the year 2020 above finalists ‘pandemic’ and ‘lockdown’

Editors said it was the third most looked-up word overall this year – and comes out on top if you discount words that recur most years.

It edged out other finalist words “pandemic” and “lockdown”, which were also among the most looked-up between January and the end of October this year.

There was a surge of searches for quarantine in the week of March 18-24, when restrictions started to be imposed in many countries due to Covid-19.

Editors tracked how people were using the word quarantine and as a result have added an extra meaning to the dictionary.

This is: “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.”

It marks a shift from existing meanings that relate to containing a person or animal suspected of being contagious.

Research indicates the word is being used synonymously with lockdown, particularly in the US, to refer to a situation in which people stay home to avoid Covid.

Wendalyn Nichols, Cambridge Dictionary publishing manager, said: “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 searched for most 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.”

Several new words have been added to the dictionary this year which relate to the pandemic, including “Covid-19”.

Others include “HyFlex”, which is short for hybrid flexible and denotes a type of teaching in which some students are physically present in class and others join the same class at the same time from a distance, using the internet.

“Elbow bump”, a friendly greeting in which people touch elbows, and “social distancing”, to describe the practice of keeping away from others to stop the spread of disease, have also been added.

Editors asked readers in a poll if they thought that a list of other new words should be added to the dictionary.

Many are portmanteau words, which combine the first part of one word with the second part of another, and they are as follows:

– Quaranteam: A group of people who go into quarantine together

– Lockstalgia: A feeling of nostalgia for the lockdown period of the Covid-19 pandemic

– Quaranteen: A teenager in the time of the Covid-19 lockdown

– Coronnial: Someone who was born around the time of the Covid-19 pandemic

It is deemed likely that use of these words will be fleeting, and none of them have been added to the dictionary at this time. 

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