From lockdown to love: the words we are looking up

Quarantine has emerged as the word that dictionary users are searching for most frequently during the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It accounted for about 1% of all searches on the website, and more than twice as many as the next most frequent search word, which turns out to be COVID-19. The accompanying video giving the pronunciation of quarantine was also comfortably the most viewed video on the website, being watched about ten times more frequently than the video for any other word.

This result is perhaps a reminder that people don’t always type in a word because they want to know what it means. The popularity of quarantine on the site may well be due to people checking its spelling and pronunciation, which are not as straightforward as many other key words associated with the current situation.

A list of the words that dictionary users have looked at frequently in March and April casts a fascinating spotlight on what people are thinking about in these times. Other popular searches include words directly related to the pandemic such as sanitizer, lockdown, pandemic, isolation, and curfew. Meanwhile, the problems of attempting to cope with life in isolation emerge with terms such as furlough, skeleton staff, surreal, enormity, challenge, and non-essential also featuring among the top 100 searches.

Yet the list also includes some words that have no apparent connection with the current pandemic: everyday items such as kid, saw, and syllable all feature among the top searches. And even at a time when people are concerned with an unprecedented threat to our health, our economy, and our social structures, there is still room for love, which makes it into the list at number 16.

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