Exploring the pathways of our lexicon
New Virus, New Words
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began its lethal spread in December 2019, people all over the world have been adopting new behaviors and new vocabulary. We've learned the distinction between self-isolation (removing yourself from healthy people if you have COVID symptoms) and social/physical distancing (maintaining a distance of 6 feet or 2 meters from another person). We've learned, or re-learned, the history of quarantine (although it derives from the Italian quarantina, meaning 40, COVID-19 quarantine usually lasts only 14 days). We're washing our hands for 20 seconds multiple times a day, sometimes to music. Some places — such as California, where I live — are under directives to shelter in place, a term borrowed from emergency management that has its origins, as Ben Zimmer wrote here in 2013, in "Cold War scenarios of nuclear fallout."
The situation is grim for many people, especially healthcare workers and anyone suffering from the disease. But not all of the new language is serious: Some of it is creative, thoughtful, and even playful.
Here are some of the new terms — call them coronacoinages or coronanovelties, in honor of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — that I've been tracking over the last few weeks.
CARES Act. On March 27, the US Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known by the acronym CARES Act. The law authorizes the spending of $2 trillion to address the economic fallout of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in the United States. For more on legislative backronyms like CARES, see my 2017 column.
Caremongering. In Canada and India, new Facebook groups are asking people to "stop scaremongering and start caremongering," as the Indian group puts it. The groups “aim to help those in need and particularly support the most vulnerable and those at greatest risk from COVID-19 within their communities, according to a story in Global News. Monger comes from Old English mangere and means "merchant" or "trader"; established compounds include warmonger (1580s) and fishmonger (mid-15th century). The earliest use of scaremonger is from 1888.
Corn-teen. A playful misspelling of quarantine, sometimes represented by the emoji compound 🌽 teen. (The emoji spelling wouldn't work in the UK, where that plant is known as maize.)
Coronacation. Classes canceled? Forced to work from home (WFH)? It's not a staycation this time; it's coronacation.
Coronadodge. Crossing the street to avoid violating the six-feet-apart guideline.
Coronageddon, coronapocalypse. The end of the world, brought about either by the pandemic or by related social and economic collapse. Often used facetiously. Previous such portmanteaus have included snowmageddon and carmageddon; the 55-hour shutdown in 2016 of a freeway through the town of Corona, in Southern California, was also dubbed Coronageddon.
Coronaspeck. As noted by Robert Lane Greene, language columnist for The Economist.
Coronials. A name for a hypothetical generation of children conceived during COVID-19 quarantine. (See also: quaranteens.)
COVID-10. Also seen with other numerals. The 10 (or 15, or 19) pounds you gain while in self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Modeled on "Freshman 15," the 15 pounds many students gain during their first year in university.
Covidiot. A COVID idiot: a person who, in a time of crisis, hoards food and essential supplies and denies them to those in need, or who otherwise flouts the pandemic guidelines. The earliest definition in Urban Dictionary is dated March 14, 2020.
The Miley. Abbreviated from Cockney rhyming slang for "coronavirus" (Miley Cyrus).
Pandumbic. Coined by "The Daily Show," it's the title of a parody disaster movie in which "a man immune … to information" wreaks havoc on the US.
PanPal. From pandemic (pen) pal. Used by the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization of Oxford County, Ontario (Canada) to describe a project that connects generations during social isolation through letter-writing. Not to be confused with a brand of nonstick cookware. Pen pal was first seen in print in 1931; it replaced the earlier pen friend.
Quaranteens. The Coronial generation in a little over a decade.
Quarantini. Any of a number of recipes for martini-like cocktails to be enjoyed during self-isolation. Related: Coronarita, a margarita-like drink made with Corona, a brand of Mexican beer.
Quaz. Australian slang for quarantine, modeled after other Australian nicknames such as Baz (Barry) and Shaz (Sharon) that replace with Z a syllable beginning with R. Other Australian coronaslang includes iso for isolation (modeled on arvo for afternoon and other truncations) and sanny for sanitizer (compare brekkie, mozzie, barbie, and, well, Aussie). (Hat tip: Sasha Wilmoth.)
Rona. Slang for coronavirus. Also The Rona, Miss Rona (primarily in gay communities), and La Rona (in Latinx communities). Rona had already been a nickname for Corona brand beer; the earliest definition for that usage on Urban Dictionary is from September 2004.
Zoom-bombing. With many people now working from home (WFH) or attending online classes, the use of videoconferencing tools such as Zoom has skyrocketed. So has an unfortunate consequence: "gate-crashing" by trolls who insert hate speech or pornographic images into the conference. (In many cases, the anonymous intruders discovered the video sessions through publicly posted log-in information.) Although there are multiple videoconferencing services, Zoom — founded in San Jose, California, in 2011 — has become a convenient shorthand. The "bomb" in Zoom-bombing comes from the jargon of spray-can graffiti; see also photobombing and yarn bombing.
Have you spotted any novel coronacoinages? Share them in a comment and I'll do my best to track their definitions and origins.