How the Coronavirus Pandemic Shaped Our Language in 2020

Cortez Deacetis

The pandemic has reworked lives and livelihoods.

But it is adjusted the tiny specifics, too—like the language we use—peppering our everyday speech with scientific conditions like “social distancing,” “superspreader” and “asymptomatic.”

“We’ve all experienced to turn out to be novice epidemiologists and familiarize ourselves with these conditions that generally we’d count on to be in some journal post somewhere.”

Ben Zimmer is a linguist and language columnist for the Wall Road Journal. He says a whole lot of the text that came up fresh new to a lot of persons in 2020 experienced existed in scholarly literature for many years.

“So, for example, ‘contact tracing’ is attested from 1910—been in use for well in excess of a century. There’s an instance from an Australian professional medical journal speaking about university epidemics back in 1910, and they’re chatting about get in touch with tracing as some thing a university nurse would have to have to do to figure out who was infected.”

And the phrase quarantine—which derives from a Renaissance-era Italian word meaning a 40-working day waiting around interval for ships arriving from plague-stricken ports—dates back centuries. But it took on new everyday living during the pandemic.

“Everyone’s talking about quarantining, and it starts producing all these new types as well—‘Drink your quarantini,’ ‘You can grow a quaranbeard,’ and on and on and on as men and women obtained artistic by using these words and phrases and forming new revolutionary expressions out of them.”

Zimmer also chairs the New Words Committee for the American Dialect Society. At a new virtual assembly, they voted on the 2020 Word of the Yr. 

Choosing from candidates like “doomscrolling” or “social distancing” and “unprecedented,” the group eventually chose a unique term, which, not like the many others, was freshly coined in 2020 and really described what turned out to be a horrible year: “COVID.”

— Christopher Intagliata 

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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