Words that went viral

Six months ago, none of us could have imagined how our world – and our lives – would be thrown into turmoil by coronavirus. Our language too has changed and added words and acronyms that have gone viral!

Some of us ‘Quarantinis’ (people staying at home) have either become vidiots ( binge-watcher of Netflix or those who use Zoom and tweet to make us laugh at times) or gained Covid weight (become obese after being locked up at homes) while others turned parents of ‘coronials’ (babies born during the pandemic).

 Many terms like social distancing and self-isolation, although they were randomly used years back, are now in common parlance. Words like contact tracing, community spread, super-spreader are now trending.

If AIDS was the fastest acronym to enter Merriam-Webster in a record period of two years, COVID-19 shattered this record to find its way to the Oxford English Dictionary in weeks.

The Dictionary’s executive editor Bernadette Paton says, “It is a rare experience for lexicographers to observe an exponential rise in usage of a single word in a very short period of time, and for that word to come overwhelmingly to dominate global discourse, even to the exclusion of most other topics.”

The dictionary resumes its role particularly during times of crisis as new jargons start appearing and people search for them.

Interestingly, an analysis of more than eight billion words of online news stories found that coronavirus and COVID-19, short form of 2019 novel coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCoV, are now dominating global discourse.

And what is COVID-19? An acute respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus, which is capable of producing severe symptoms and death, especially in the elderly and others with underlying health conditions.

Coronavirus is a category of viruses that can cause fever, breathing difficulties, pneumonia and diarrhea. The name comes from the Latin word “corona,” which means crown. Under a microscope, these viruses are characterized by circles with spikes ending in little blobs.

Whether the new coronavirus words will stay in use depends on how long the pandemic lasts. Even so, some words have more staying power.

“It is a consistent theme of lexicography that great social change brings great linguistic change, and that has never been truer than in this current global crisis,” says Paton.