neologism (nē-ˈä-lə-ˌji-zəm)

COVID-19 has contributed many neologisms to the English language. (photo from https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10912106-181/sonoma-county-signs-discourage-nonessential)

The coronavirus pandemic is not only affecting our every day lives, but also how we interact and speak. The English lexicon has expanded in recent months – new words and phrases have been added to online dictionaries at a rapid rate to keep up with society’s use of these neologisms. A neologism is a new word, usage, or expression. The word consists of two Greek roots: neo- meaning new and -log- meaning word.

During the last several months, the words coronavirus and COVID-19 have been added to online dictionaries and these words have spawned the use of phrases like self-isolation and shelter in place. Although these phrases have been around for years, the coronavirus has given them new meaning. Self-isolation was first coined in 1834 to refer to the action of isolating oneself from the rest of society – now, it refers to self-quarantine in order to halt the transmission of COVID-19. Likewise, shelter in place used to refer to staying in one’s home under the threat of nuclear warfare. It now refers to a government mandated order to stay at home in the wake of coronavirus.

We are seeing linguistic creativity in social media, too. Slang words like coronacation (forced vacation due to coronavirus), zoom-bombing (disrupting a Zoom call), covidiot (insult for people who disregard public health and safety rules) are now part of our vocabulary. Acronyms such PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) previously used by medical personnel are now part of everyday vernacular.

COVID-19 has probably contributed the most neologisms to our vocabulary than any other significant event to date – however, neologisms have been added to dictionaries throughout history, often during times of social crises. For example, WWII brought us the word radar (Radio Detection and Ranging). In 2003, infodemic was introduced to our vocabulary as a result of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Infodemic refers to the misinformation that spread during the epidemic.

To explore and learn about the neologisms that have been added to two prominent dictionaries, click here for Oxford English Dictionary and here for Merriam Webster. Chances are you already know many of them!

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