Coronavirus slang and the rapid evolution of English

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People describe the experience of living through COVID-19 lockdowns and extreme social distancing as being "weird", "strange", "unsettling", "disturbing", and so on.  As such, the current circumstances give rise to all sorts of new expressions to express their feelings and activities which are so different from "normal" times, one of the most common terms for what we're going through often being called "the new normal".

Jason Kottke, meister of one of the most venerable blogs,, has written about these changes in "Covid-19 Slang and How Language Evolves Quickly in Stressful Times" (5/13/20). He draws on two other articles.  From Tony Thorne's "#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral – 2", language and innovation (4/15/20), he garners the following:

Quarantimes – a hashtag or label for the prevailing circumstances under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic

Rona, Lady Rona, roni, rone – the coronavirus personified/familiarised

Boomer remover – the coronavirus viewed as a phenomenon resulting in the decimation of the baby boomer demographic

Covidiot – a person behaving irresponsibly in conditions of containment

Doomscrolling/doomsurfing – obsessively accessing upsetting news online

Infits – outfits worn in conditions of confinement

Zoom mullet – a hairstyle developed in lockdown which is ‘camera-ready’ (presentable to a webcam) at front and sides and dishevelled at the rear

Covid waltz – manoeuvring to avoid close contact with passers-by while distance restrictions are in place

And, from Kate Burridge and Howard Manns "‘Iso’, ‘boomer remover’ and ‘quarantini’: how coronavirus is changing our language", The Conversation (5/10/20), he gathers these interesting terms:

In these times of COVID-19, there are the usual suspects: shortenings like “sanny” (hand sanitizer) and “iso” (isolation), abbreviations like BCV (before corona virus) and WFH (working from home), also compounds “corona moaner” (the whingers*) and “zoombombing” (the intrusion into a video conference).

Plenty of nouns have been “verbed” too — the toilet paper/pasta/tinned tomatoes have been “magpied”. Even rhyming slang has made a bit of a comeback with Miley Cyrus lending her name to the virus (already end-clipped to “the Miley”). Some combine more than one process — “the isodesk” (or is that “the isobar”) is where many of us are currently spending our days.

*[Dialectal alteration of Middle English whinsen, from Old English hwinsian.] AHDEL

If I had my druthers, I'd prefer that the disease and all the complications, inconveniences, and new words that it has brought would simply vanish from the face of the earth.


Selected readings

[h.t. Meg Davis]


  1. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 22, 2020 @ 4:06 pm

    Tangentially, I'm surprised to learn that "the new normal" dates from (at least) 1850, and peaked in the 1930s. After a long decline, it's been on the upswing again since roughly 2000.

  2. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 22, 2020 @ 4:08 pm

    Whoops, wrong link. Try here.

  3. David Morris said,

    May 22, 2020 @ 5:23 pm

    How many of these will maintain any usage once this is over?

    Like WW1, WW2 and www, WFH takes longer to say than the full versions. Whenever I see WFH, I first interpret it as 'What the f-', as in an email from the manager saying 'Fred is WFH today'.

  4. Viseguy said,

    May 22, 2020 @ 5:33 pm

    VM: "If I had my druthers, I'd prefer that the disease and all the complications, inconveniences, and new words that it has brought would simply vanish from the face of the earth."

    Hear, hear, Prof. Mair! But since the disease shows no sign of vanishing anytime soon, I'll play the cognitive psychotherapist and suggest we think of the "new words that it has brought" as a proclamation of human resilience in the face of existential peril — he said, sipping a quarantini (which he just Added to Dictionary).

  5. Orin K Hargraves said,

    May 22, 2020 @ 5:47 pm

    See also

  6. Narmitaj said,

    May 22, 2020 @ 6:19 pm

    I tried a small local effort to get the Before Times known at the Antecovidian World. But it didn't catch on.

  7. Norman Smith said,

    May 22, 2020 @ 7:14 pm

    Narmitaj said: "I tried a small local effort to get the Before Times known at the Antecovidian World. But it didn't catch on."

    I will now begin using this excellent neologism (and its mate, "Postcovidian") in my communications. Thanks!

  8. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 22, 2020 @ 11:22 pm

    There’s also “quarantune”:

  9. Dave said,

    May 23, 2020 @ 3:09 am

    In Denglish news, "Homeoffice machen" is current, causing pedants to inquire why germanophones can't either use a perfectly reasonable german phrase or take over an actual anglophone english phrase, but insist on coming up with a pidgin term that exists in neither. (if an EU-army/navy ever replaces NATO, I suppose we may have to count EUnglish in addition to the former commonwealth dialects?)

  10. maidhc said,

    May 23, 2020 @ 3:12 am

    "Covid waltz"

    There certainly is a need for a term to denote this newly ubiquitous activity. But perhaps someone could coin a more felicitous appellation.

    The six-foot fandango
    The two-metre mazurka
    The 'rona rhumba
    The quarantine quadrille
    The distancing disco
    The lockdown lindy

    Those are just a few ideas off the top of my head, but I'm sure others might come up with something better.

  11. Leo said,

    May 23, 2020 @ 4:27 am

    The word itself, "lockdown", is curious because it's simultaneously so ominous and vague. We are apparently in lockdown in Britain, but most people are free to leave their homes for all sorts of reasons.

    It's an elastic concept, covering a range of scenarios from the early days of Italy's restrictions, which seemed close (but by no means identical) to house arrest on a national scale, to the current state of affairs in Britain, where I can go to the supermarket, for a 5-mile run, to visit a single friend outdoors, or even to a garden centre should I so desire.

    "Lockdown" sounds like it implies a state apparatus that can monitor and control everybody's movements, but in practice depends almost entirely on voluntary cooperation. The cordoning-off of streets after a terrorist attack, with orders for the public to stay indoors, is described as "lockdown" as well, but is much more localised and short-lived than Covid-19 lockdown, and is strictly enforced by armed police.

    Of course vagueness and elasticity are inherent to language, but some related terms are arguably more definite in scope. "Quarantine" and "isolation" leave no doubt that a person is being kept indoors somewhere, away from the public. "Curfew" is used when people really are not allowed out, or at least at night. "Restrictions" is more flexible, but it's a generic word by nature. "Lockdown" just feels like a concept that ought to be definite but is anything but.

  12. Moonfriend said,

    May 23, 2020 @ 4:57 am

    What do you call a group of covidiots?

    A covfefe!

  13. Bob Ladd said,

    May 23, 2020 @ 5:20 am

    @Dave: Like German, Italian has also decided to use an English phrase ("smart working") to refer (usually) to working from home. Theoretically it refers to any kind of flexible working arrangement (if you read Italian you can look at the official government website at, but to the dismay of Italian language peevers (like it mostly just means working from home.
    As Cliff Arroyo said in a Language Log comment thread last week, "At times it seems like most European languages have simply given up trying to create new words and have outsourced vocabulary creation to English…"

  14. Robert Coren said,

    May 23, 2020 @ 8:43 am

    @David Morris: Me too. I invariably have to read "WFH" twice to get the "WTF" interpretation out of my head.

  15. Mark Metcalf said,

    May 23, 2020 @ 9:59 am

    And lest we forget, behold the venerable Quarintini which is used as a social lubricant in Virtual Cocktail Hours (via Zoom, of course)

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