The language of coronavirus

coronavirus Language

The coronavirus has developed at such a rapid pace, it has not only changed the way we live our lives but also the way we communicate. We have also learned important distinctions, such as epidemic vs. pandemic, quarantine vs. isolation, and respirator vs. ventilators.

Any new and widespread phenomenon always brings with it the development of new language to describe it. This particular crisis has brought a mixture of new coinages and the adaptation of terms that already existed to talk about the pandemic and the impact on the world. Some are new words, others have taken on a new meaning and some are just used a lot more than they used to be. 

In the UK, The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) went outside its quarterly publishing cycle to add a slate of new words and terms, including social distancing, “infodemic” and to “flatten the curve”, which have come into use during the outbreak. Also featured in the list are self-quarantine, shelter in place, social distancing, PPE or personal protective equipment, and WFH or working from home.

However some other words have entered our everyday vocabulary. Here are a few of them:

“Social distancing”,

“social isolation”,


“herd immunity”

“key worker”,

“elbow pumping”


“WFH” (working from home),

“WFO” (working from office),

“contactless delivery”,





“community spread”,


“contact tracing”,

“flatten the curve”,


“distance learning”,

“virtual happy hour”.

On top of these are the pre-existing noun-to-verbs (technically known as denominalisations) that have proliferated in the last week, such as “Facebooking”, “WhatsApping”, “watchpartying” (DJ’s playing online) and “Zooming” (video conference).

In times of crisis, we see the worst but also the best in our fellow humans. One big positive of this pandemic is that we now know so much about each other – and hopefully care more about each other too. As an example, the ‘Kind’ or ‘Best Regards’ that are commonly used to sign off an email have now been replaced by ‘Stay Well’ or ‘Stay Safe’.

So my fellow human beings, look after yourself and Stay Home!



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