Defined by the dictionary as ‘continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time’, the word’s stellar performance this year may have as much to do with NASA as the pandemic. A spike of 30,487 searches for perseverance occurred between 19–25 February 2021, after NASA’s Perseverance Rover made its final descent to Mars on 18 February.
Wendalyn Nichols, Cambridge Dictionary Publishing Manager, said: “It made sense that lookups of 'perseverance' spiked at this time. Cambridge Dictionary is the top website in the world for learners of English, and perseverance is not a common word for students of English to have in their vocabulary. We often see spikes in lookups of words associated with current events when those words are less familiar.”
In the following months, however, perseverance continued to be looked up more frequently on the site than ever before. Nichols said: “Just as it takes perseverance to land a rover on Mars, it takes perseverance to face the challenges and disruption to our lives from COVID-19, climate disasters, political instability and conflict. We appreciated that connection, and we think Cambridge Dictionary users do, too.”
Further evidence that words looked up on Cambridge Dictionary often reflect world events is that in January searches for insurrection, impeachment, inauguration and acquit all spiked as the world closely followed the US presidential election.
Image: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover takes a selfie over a rock nicknamed 'Rochette' on 10 September 2021
Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge