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

Just a few months ago, terms like "social distancing" and "pandemic" rarely entered the daily lexicon across America. But like so many other parts of life, how we talk and the words we use on a daily basis have been rapidly and profoundly affected by the coronavirus crisis. The changes have been so significant that Merriam-Webster announced it was making an unscheduled update to the dictionary in order to add words associated with the disease and the resulting global response. The New York Times recently issued a coronavirus glossary of sorts, as did the Reuters news organization. While some of these words are new, others have been around for a while but are newly prominent or have revised definitions. Here's a closer look at the words and phrases that are suddenly part of our "new normal" (something else everyone is suddenly talking about all the time).

Related: How the Pandemic Has Changed What We're Searching for Online

Kris Scott contributed to this story.

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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 succinctly 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
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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 hugging you or shaking your hand every time he sees you. And so on.

Cystic Acne
Coronavirus messages painted on streets of Miami
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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!"

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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
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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.


Fatten the Curve

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

Male hands pouring espresso martini cocktail into glass


A mashup of "quarantine" and "martini," this is any cocktail you mix at home while in lockdown. It's a word that also showed up on a lot of restaurants' new takeout menus in places where to-go cocktails became legal.

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 a myriad of 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 sending kids back 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
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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.



One in a handful of new acronyms few people said in 2019 (what's up, PPE! We're getting to you), CDC has become as common as LOL, although there's nothing laughable about it. CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based in Atlanta and, until recently, was in charge of reporting hospitals' coronavirus data.

The World Health Organization


Yet another initialism that's suddenly bantered about daily, the WHO has been a major source of information and guidance throughout the pandemic — albeit without the involvement of the United States moving forward. For those still not sure what WHO stands for, it's the World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations focused on international public health and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

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 social distancing and even lockdowns should continue and those who would like to return to life as we once knew it. Americans upset about others violating social distancing 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 those gathering in large groups.



One of the most challenging parts of our new normal, quarantines are defined by Reuters as "a way of separating and restricting people who have been exposed to a disease, such as COVID-19, to see if they too have become infected and get ill." Merriam-Webster offers a variation on this term with "self-quarantine," which it says means to "refrain from any contact with other individuals for a period of time (such as two weeks) during the outbreak of a contagious disease usually by remaining in one's home and limiting contact with family members."

Lockdown and Shutdown
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Slightly different than quarantine and self-quarantine, lockdown and shutdown are "being used by many to describe more general and widespread restrictions on movement, work, and travel on all people in a city, region, or country," says Reuters.

Related: 41 Things to Do to Before Lockdown Ends

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While pandemic is certainly not a new word, it has become a far more commonplace part of our daily conversation. To make sure were all on the same page about what it exactly means, The New York Times recently offered the following definition: "A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease that affects large numbers of people."

Related: 2020s vs. 1920s: Will History Repeat?

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The distinction between pandemic and epidemic is that pandemic applies to a disease that has spread to multiple countries and continents, while an epidemic is a disease that has spread over a wide geographic area, though not internationally or globally.

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No, not the Hollywood movie, but the modern reality. Yale Medicine says outbreak "shares the same definition as epidemic, with one exception — an outbreak usually refers to a more limited geographic area." This pandemic, for instance, started as an "outbreak" in Wuhan, the capital city of China's Hubei province.

Related: COVID-19 Skeptics Who Contracted the Virus

SARS-CoV-2 virus
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library


By now we all wish we'd never heard this word before. One of the newly revised words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, coronavirus' proper definition is now "the broader name for the family of viruses that includes COVID-19."

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Used practically interchangeably with coronavirus, according to Merriam-Webster, COVID-19 is the abbreviation of coronavirus disease 2019.

Novel Coronavirus
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Novel Coronavirus

A novel coronavirus is a "new coronavirus that has not been previously identified," according to the CDC. The virus that causes COVID-19 is "not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold," the CDC says.

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Not to be confused with epidemic, and not nearly as widely used in general conversation, the word endemic nevertheless is among those taking on newfound importance. Yale Medicine defines it as "the baseline, or expected, level of the disease in the community — meaning it always exists, like the common cold and flu, which are usually at low, predictable rates." In other words, we may never be completely rid of this virus. 

Bell curves for covid-19 infections on monitor screen with healthcare capacity line
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Flattening the Curve

This term has become immensely important across the nation and world as we all hope for a return to normal life. Flattening the curve is a reference to the "curve in a chart that shows when a surge of new coronavirus cases are expected to strike," according to The New York Times. A higher curve means more cases 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.

Community Spread
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Community Spread

An unsettling reality that has become frighteningly familiar, community spread is "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.

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



Those with COVID-19 who are highly contagious and capable of transmitting the virus to a large number of uninfected individuals. MIT Technology Review seems to acknowledge that, while super-spreaders exist, there's little knowledge about why they're so much more contagious, let alone how we identify them.

Social Distancing
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Social Distancing

It's probably fair to say that, before March, few of us had heard the phrase social distancing. Merriam-Webster describes it as a new term, adding 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). 

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." This is a definition provided by 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 mid-March? 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.

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Yale Medicine defines this term, widely used in news reports about the spread of coronavirus, as "a collection of cases occurring in the same place at the same time." In February and March, early clusters of the virus were found in California, New York, and Washington state.



A drug many of us had never heard of before, hydroxychloroquine is often used by doctors to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus and was touted by President Donald Trump as a possible treatment for the coronavirus. But various studies have shown that, instead of helping those who have COVID-19, it puts patients at a higher risk of a heart attack.

Antibodies and Antibody Testing
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Some COVID-19 carriers have no idea they have the virus. This type of person is often asymptomatic, which Yale Medicine defines as someone who is "a carrier of an illness but does not show symptoms."

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, drive-thru testing is now available in some places, 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: These Restaurant Chains Are Requiring Customers to Wear Masks