child holding cardboard sign that reads "don't be a covidiot, wear a mask"

Pandemic Phrases That Have Infected Our Vocabulary

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child holding cardboard sign that reads "don't be a covidiot, wear a mask"

COVID-19 Lingo

This time last year, terms like "pandemic" and "quarantine" were just entering the daily lexicon across America. Like so many other parts of life, how we talk and the words we use on a daily basis were rapidly and profoundly affected by the coronavirus crisis. The changes were so significant that Merriam-Webster announced it was making an unscheduled update to the dictionary. While some of the words associated with the disease and the resulting global response are new, others have been around for a while but are newly prominent or have revised definitions. Here's a closer look at some of the terms that are part of our "new normal" (something else everyone is now talking about all the time).

Related: Companies That Have Filed for Bankruptcy Since the Pandemic Began — and Which Ones Could Be Next

Kris Scott contributed to this story.

Robotic Pipette Device


A change or mutation to a virus that may cause it to spread more quickly and easily among people. According to Mayo Clinic, three coronavirus variants — those identified in the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil — are causing the most concern so far.

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Coming to the Gym When Sick
Waiting For Coronavirus Vaccination

'Jumping the Line'

Though hardly new, this phrase has been used most recently to describe people who use their wealth, influence, and/or some type of trickery to get the vaccine before others deemed higher priority because of factors like a pre-existing condition or essential profession. 

Related: How the Rich and Famous Continue to Travel and Party During the Pandemic

Covid19 vaccine vials


An acronym for messenger RNA, this is a new type of vaccine that teaches cells to make a protein to trigger an immune response, rather than introduce a germ or virus into the body. Although it predates the coronavirus, mRNA technology gained prominence with its use in COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine
Evgenia Parajanian/istockphoto


This was the first COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It's an mRNA vaccine that involves two doses given three weeks apart. 

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine
Evgenia Parajanian/istockphoto


Technically named mRNA-1273, this COVID-19 vaccine requires two shots given 28 days apart.

Janssen Johnson & Johnson Headquarters
Sundry Photography/istockphoto

Johnson & Johnson/Janssen

This COVID-19 vaccine uses a "disabled adenovirus" that's unrelated to the coronavirus to trigger the body's immune response. Unlike the mRNA vaccines, it requires a single shot.

International Certificate of Covid-19 Vaccination

Vaccine Passport

A program — still in development in the United States — that would provide people who've received an approved vaccine with proof-of-vaccination certificates. These would allow them to engage in activity such as international travel. 

Busy Street in Sydney

Herd Immunity

According to the World Health Organization, herd immunity "is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection." It is also known as population immunity. 

Related: Sekou Smith, Larry King, and More Celebs We've Lost to COVID-19

Karen Ducey / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC


Pretty sure we don't need to spell this one out for you. Yes, it rhymes (sort of) with a certain profanity. And, yes, it applies to those folks — or, as Urban Dictionary so bluntly puts it, those "selfish idiots" — who refuse to wear a mask for any number of unenlightened reasons. 

Related: Masks and Accessories to Make Covering Your Face More Comfortable

Empty Toilet Paper Shelves
Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC


A lot like "maskhole" but less specific: A maskhole can be a covidiot, but so can the person who prematurely hoards grocery store supplies. Same for someone who insists on holding a large indoor gathering. And so on. 

Cystic Acne
Coronavirus messages painted on streets of Miami
Cliff Hawkins / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC

The 'Rona

Apparently saying a five-syllable word got old for most of us after about three months. Hence: the 'rona. It's something you'd use, say, after sneezing in front of your neighbors: "Don't worry! It's allergies, not the 'rona!"

SolStock / Moment / Getty Images CC


You know when you're hungry and there's nothing in the fridge, but you still open it anyway to see if maybe something's magically turned up? Doomscrolling is like that. But the fridge is the internet, and your hunger is the insatiable need to confirm that the proverbial 2020 gunk is still in the fan. Also sometimes called "doomsurfing."

Two girls with masks in the park during pandemic
lechatnoir / E+ / Getty Images CC

COVID Bubble

The social circle you risk exposure for in order to stay sane and have actual conversations with people other than your family. These are friends and family that you see socially on a regular or semi-regular basis, even though none of you really know whether or not you're being entirely safe.

Related: 24 Things We Already Miss About Lockdown

Women friends having fun at home dancing and singing in the living room of their Los Angeles apartment.
Covid Party


While it's been debated whether this is actually a thing or just urban legend, reports have surfaced saying younger people are throwing parties after a positive diagnosis with the goal of infecting others — with those others' full knowledge — and prompting an immune response. If this is true, COVID partiers are — can you guess? Yes, covidiots.

Drive-through coronavirus test


It's the same virus as the one that starts with a "c," only this is what it's called when covidiots and maskholes test positive. Sometimes used by foreign media to describe what's happening with COVID-19 cases in the United States.

Bell curves for covid-19 infections on monitor screen with healthcare capacity line
Florian Graf/istockphoto

Flattening the Curve

Remember when we were all so committed to this? On charts showing the number of coronavirus cases, a higher curve means more infections in a shorter period. The goal is to spread them out over a longer period and avoid overwhelming hospitals — hence the lockdowns and other protective measures. 


Fattening the Curve

What happens when you have a bunch of covidiots and maskholes catching the moronavirus. 

Male hands pouring espresso martini cocktail into glass
Virtual Happy Hour


Also sometimes called Zoomraiding, this is what happens when internet trolls or hackers invade a Zoom video meeting to interject material that is obscene, racist, or antisemitic in nature. Not a happy word, but it may cheer you to know that authorities in some countries are investigating and prosecuting Zoombombers.



Exactly what it sounds like: when forced togetherness as a result of quarantine hastens a couple's realization that they probably don't belong together. After lockdowns ended in China, local media reported that divorce applications were overwhelming officials in two provinces, Sichuan and Shanxi.

Apply Before Getting Pregnant


While some couples appear to be struggling and inching toward covidivorce, others appear to be doing just fine. Hence, the number of coronababies who will be born in 2021 as we all try to find a way to fill the time at home with something other than Zoom happy hours and binge-watching. 

woman looking stressed while using a laptop to work from home
Group of teenagers taking a selfie wearing face masks during Covid-19 Coronavirus epidemic spread.
Snack Boxes


A reference to the weight gain some are experiencing while staying at home trying to avoid catching the virus. Other countries have fun names for this one too. Germans, for example, call it "coronaspeck" — speck being a baconesque food that Germans indulge in. Another popular one, because rhymes are fun, is the "quarantine 15."

Related: This Cheap Workout Gear Can Help You Stay in Shape at Home

WFH - Work From Home
NoSystem images/istockphoto
Swap a Vacation for a Staycation


People seem to be using this one in myriad ways. One, it can be a staycation forced by the pandemic. It can reference a vacation one plans cheaply due to pandemic-related travel price cuts. Finally, it's what some folks (who probably aren't very good at working from home) are calling working from home. 

Related: 25 Things You Don't Miss About Going to the Office

Boy and his teddy bear both in protective medical masks sits on windowsill and looks out window
Learning Pod

Learning Pod

A method by which some people are solving the problem of whether to send kids to school: hiring a private tutor for the kids in their COVID bubble or quaranteam, which can be expanded to include people with the financial wherewithal to help pay said tutor.

Related: What a Teacher Wants You to Know About Homeschooling

Dalgona Coffee
Monica Lorenzo/istockphoto

Dalgona Coffee

While we're all busy staying home and not dining out, we're finding ever more inventive ways to appease our inner foodie. Dalgona coffee was one of the biggest trends on Instagram amid lockdowns. Haven't heard of it? You may want to look it up. The pictures of this Korean coffee concoction alone will make you drool. Think: sugar, instant coffee, and milk, whipped to a frothy, picturesque perfection.

Related: Instant Coffee Makes These Desserts Irresistible

New Normal

New Normal

With all the changes unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, Americans suddenly find themselves facing — and constantly hearing about — the "new normal." Just what that new reality looks like undoubtedly varies based on where you live and your own particular circumstances but, broadly and relatively speaking, the new normal stinks for just about everyone.

Social Shaming
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Social Shaming

To go out or stay home? To shop or not? There's a significant divide in public opinion among those who believe things like mask wearing and social distancing should continue and those who would like to return to life as we once knew it. Americans upset about others violating pandemic norms have taken to social media and other forums to shame or embarrass those caught in the act. Even politicians have endorsed such responses. The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, urged residents to socially shame anyone not wearing a mask or gathering in large groups.

Novel Coronavirus
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Novel Coronavirus

Coronavirus is actually "the broader name for the family of viruses that includes COVID-19," under Merriam-Webster's newly revised definition. A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that had not been previously identified, according to the CDC, and this one is "not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold" — something we now know all too well.

Community Spread
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Community Spread

We went from "clusters" of cases in places like California, New York, and Washington state to this unsettling reality: "the spread of a contagious disease to individuals in a particular geographic location who have no known contact with other infected individuals or who have not recently traveled to an area where the disease has any documented cases," according to Merriam-Webster's definition.

Related: COVID-19 Crisis: Ways to Help in All 50 States 

Social Distancing
David Tran/istockphoto

Social Distancing

Merriam-Webster added this term for the avoidance of close contact with other people as a new entry, noting that it has "become ubiquitous in coverage of safe practices for preventing the spread of the disease." Never mind that physical distancing might be more accurate (see: virtual happy hour).



Another new entry in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this term refers to those with COVID-19 who are highly contagious and capable of transmitting the virus to a large number of uninfected individuals.  

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
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Personal Protective Equipment

PPE, which has been in woefully short supply in this country, is "specialized clothing or equipment, worn by an employee for protection against infectious materials," according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In health care settings, PPE encompasses items such as gloves, gowns, aprons, masks, respirators, goggles, and face shields.

Related: How to Help the Essential Workers on the Front Lines of the Coronavirus Fight 

N95 Respirator
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N95 Respirator

How many of us, other than those in specialized professions that required them, knew what an N95 mask was before last year? These look like surgical masks and form "a tight seal around the nose and mouth," according to Yale Medicine. "An N95 is actually a respirator that filters out at least 95% of particles in the air." These, too, have been hard to come by amid the pandemic.

Contact Tracing
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Contact Tracing

Yet another critical tool in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, contact tracing is the "practice of identifying and monitoring individuals who may have had contact with an infectious person as a means of controlling the spread of a communicable disease," according to Merriam-Webster.

Drive-Thru Testing
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Drive-Thru Testing

The term drive-thru used to be associated primarily with fast food. But as part of the national response to coronavirus, some places are offering drive-thru testing, a process that allows you to be swabbed for the virus without leaving your car. Conducting testing this way is believed to be safer for everyone involved because it involves minimal contact with others.

Contactless Delivery

Contactless Delivery

Look at the websites of many of your favorite restaurants these days and you'll likely find this term displayed in newly prominent ways. Domino's, Papa John's, and Pizza Guys are just a few that have taken pains to point out and define their contactless-delivery options, which typically involve leaving food on your doorstep rather than actually handing it to you.

Related: 13 Restaurant Chains We Miss