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Word list for the pandemic

By KRISTIN BARRON
Posted 12/16/20

So much has changed this year, including the English language.

To start off, we are in the “new normal,” as the cloying catchphrase goes. It is a slogan universally disparaged but …

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root cellar

Word list for the pandemic

Posted

So much has changed this year, including the English language.

To start off, we are in the “new normal,” as the cloying catchphrase goes. It is a slogan universally disparaged but indicative of a defining moment of this devastating year. It is just one of the many phrases and words that have evolved this year due to the pandemic. To keep up with all the changes, the Oxford English Dictionary, considered the gold standard of dictionaries, has had to issue additional updates to record the effects the pandemic has had on language, according to an article on www.theconversation.com.

Both Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com have chosen “pandemic” as their word of the year for 2020. According to Merriam-Webster, searches for the word began mounting in January. On February 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) named the rapidly spreading coronavirus caused by SARS-CoV-2, as you by now know, COVID-19. Only a month later, on March 11, the WHO designated COVID-19 as a global pandemic. On that day in March, according to Merriam-Webster, searches for the word pandemic spiked 13,575 percent compared to 2019.

Quoted in a Rolling Stone article, Dictionary.com called “pandemic” the one word that “kept running through the profound and manifold ways our lives have been upended—and our language so rapidly transformed.”

But we do not need anyone to tell us that.

My personal favorite word of the day is the virus moniker contraction “the ‘rona” as used in the following sentence by an acquaintance of mine: “The ‘rona be wailing.”

But also consider the following prevalent vernacular descriptions inspired by the pandemic. Many terms are a blend of already existing words, often the products of social media like “quarantini,” “carona baby,” “covidiot,” “maskhole,” “quaranteam,” “scamdemic,” “doomscrolling” and “maskne” (acne caused by wearing masks).

Other phases now in common usage have come from scientific, medical and epidemiological fields, including jargon like “viral load,” “RO” (pronounced R-naught), “personal protective equipment” (PPE), “super-spreader,” “contact tracing” and “social distancing,”

Other common terms have taken on new resonance during this time. Consider “Zoom” (also “zoom bombing” and “zoom fatigue”) “herd immunity,” “bubble,” “asymptomatic,” “pod,” “lockdown,” “shelter in place” and “furlough.” And now, toilet paper is immediately linked to panic buying. Of course, “hero” has been expanded to include “essential workers.”

Whatever this dire time means to us is reflected in the use and evolution of our language. As University of Pennsylvania sociolinguist Andrea Beltrama says in The Inquirer, “The process isn’t new. What is different is the scale of it… We have a clear snapshot of how language is shaped.”

We have yet to see what permanent changes, if any, will endure.

Best wishes for the holidays and new year.

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