The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live. The ‘new normal’ has become a part of everyday vocabulary, and not wearing a face mask to the supermarket has become a distant memory. As we know, cultural shifts tend to go hand-in-hand with changes to language, and this pandemic has been no different.

Pandemic language – what is new?

Terms such as ‘social distancing’ and ‘R rate’ may be new to most of us, but were actually pandemic coping mechanisms used many years ago such as during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and the Black Death. Naturally, when you consider the term ‘social’, that word itself has evolved in usage in recent years with the rise in social media and technology. We might now consider using Zoom or Skype in lockdown as a new form of ‘socialising’. As such, the World Health Organisation suggested that ‘physical distancing’ might be a more appropriate term to cover maintaining space between people in real life.

Other phrases such as ‘flatten the curve’ have now been added to the Dictionary. Under other circumstances, this phrase might be ambiguous, but it has become synonymous with the government’s efforts to bring down the virus peak.

Other terms such as quarantine and self-isolation have been in wider use before, but these words have now become closely associated with pandemic language and may remain so for years to come.

Specific Covid-19 response systems such as Track and Trace have been set up as part of the pandemic response, and their association with this moment in time will surely be pertinent. Pandemic language is likely to go down in history, although, once the pandemic is over, it may disappear from everyday use.

Covid-19 and slang: the pandemic’s cultural impact on language

We have all heard the abbreviations ‘Rona’ and ‘Corona’ used to describe the coronavirus. ‘Maskne’ has also been commonly used to describe the pimples caused by mask-wearing. An amalgamation of the words ‘mask’ and ‘acne’, the phrase doesn’t need much explanation. During lockdown, words such as Quarantini (the name of a homemade cocktail derived from the words ‘Quarantine’ and ‘cocktail’ for when the pubs were shut) also became commonplace on social media. ‘Covidiot’ has also been used to describe people flouting the rules or generally acting in an unacceptable way that puts themselves or others at risk of the virus.

Social media and internet slang influence many areas of life. This was especially true during the height of the first wave of the pandemic when ‘Zoom Quizzes’ and ‘Clap for Carers’ became widespread events thanks to the power of online sharing. These are examples of pandemic slang heavily influenced by culture.

Coronavirus and Covid-19 – where do the names come from?

One of the truly new words of the pandemic is the name of the virus itself; Covid-19. The term coronavirus is nothing new in itself as it is used to describe a group of infectious viruses. New words can often seem random, but, on closer inspection, newly formed words can often be seen to be derived from existing language.

The word corona means crown with the first part of the word ‘corona’ named thanks to the virus’ crown-like appearance. The term Covid-19 is derived from a number of words relevant to the virus; ‘Co’ from corona, ‘vi’ from virus and ‘d’ from disease.

Medical language and everyday jargon

This time last year, most of us outside of the medical field had not heard of many of the terms widely used in the news this year. From the names of drugs to phrases such as ‘mortality rate’, ‘transmission’ and ‘pandemic’, these words have passed over into everyday vernacular. It is especially important that medical jargon can be understood in layman’s terms during a pandemic so as to ensure the safety and wellbeing of communities.

Translation and Covid-19

With travel opening up again and some people currently living or working abroad, it is important that coronavirus language is widely understood and properly translated. This makes standardising the way different terms are referred to across countries particularly important. Oxford Languages has launched a project to standardise language around the pandemic to ensure it can be widely understood across the globe. The Covid-19 multilingual project will provide accessible translations of key terms which are regularly updated to include new pandemic vernacular.

Want to find out more about translations and pandemic language during Covid-19? Talk to one of our experts today!