Lately, do you find yourself talking as if you have a degree in epidemiology or public health? In spring 2020, it can seem like we all just received a crash course.

I’ve been looking at some online dictionaries to see which words and terms are rising in popularity. I counted 60 that have been trending, and divided them into four categories. How many have you used routinely?

(If you want to dive deeper into coronavirus vocabulary, check out here and here, Merriam-Webster, the Oxford English Dictionary, Yale Medicine and the Government of Canada.)

Commonplace words that we’ve never used as much as we are now

  • Apex
  • Asymptomatic
  • Cluster
  • Communicable
  • Contagion
  • Hoarding
  • Immunocompromised
  • Isolation/self-isolation
  • Lockdown
  • N95 respirator
  • Outbreak
  • Pandemic
  • Purell
  • Quarantine/self-quarantine
  • Screening
  • Symptomatic
  • Vector
  • Ventilator

Phrases that are suddenly in fashion

  • Chain of transmission
  • Close contact
  • Community spread
  • Confirmed cases
  • Contact tracing
  • Droplet transmission
  • Dry cough
  • Essential businesses/workers
  • Face covering
  • Flatten the curve
  • Hand hygiene
  • Homemade mask
  • Hot spot
  • Incubation period
  • Panic shopping
  • Shelter in place
  • Six feet apart
  • Social distancing
  • Super spreader
  • Surge funding
  • Unnecessary travel

Acronyms that are now instantly familiar

The big one: COVID-19. It stands for coronavirus (COVI) disease (D) and the year it first appeared (19). Incidentally, coronaviruses are called by that name because under a microscope they resemble a solar corona.

Others: CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit), PHAC (Public Health Agency of Canada), PPE (personal protective equipment), WFH (work from home), and WHO (World Health Organization).

By the way, Merriam-Webster added COVID-19 to its dictionary 34 days after WHO first used the term. That was the fastest ever a word has gone from creation to dictionary entry.

Brand new terms created for the occasion

I’ve seen all of these in use. Their definitions now appear in some online dictionaries:

  • “Coronials” – the babies being conceived now (who in 13 years will grow into the “quaranteen” generation)
  • “Covid-15” – the weight people will put on isolation, a play on the weight gain many experience during the first year of university
  • “Covidiot” – someone who disregards health and safety guidelines (a synonym of “moronaviorus”), or who selfishly hoards essential supplies
  • “Covidivorce” – what will happen as a result of the strain of being with a spouse 24/7
  • “Coronageddon” – a label for this time of upheaval
  • “Doom-scrolling” – checking your phone for the latest news
  • “Infodemic” – excessive availability of false information
  • “Quarantini” – a cocktail to be consumed at home under quarantine (could be shared with others during “virtual happy hour”)
  • “Zoom-bombing” – uninvited guests crashing a virtual meeting

I know the words we all want to hear are “vaccine”, “treatment” and “cure”. Or, for that matter, “human contact”. Until then, stay safe.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxmanconnect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.

April 15, 2020

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