How our words have gone viral this year

language Dec 10, 2020

After a hard day in your zoom-room, or maybe a run-in with a covidiot, you’re probably ready for a quarantini.

This past year has brought profound changes to all of us, in the way that we interact with friends, strangers and work colleagues. And - as that first sentence suggests - in our vocabulary.

It’s only when you start to list them that you realize exactly how many new or compound words have been created. Here are just a few:

  • Corona-cut - a do-it-yourself haircut during lockdown
  • Coronasplaining - lecturing others about the virus, with no qualifications (a variation of mansplaining).
  • Covidiot - a person flouting public health advice
  • Isobar - where you keep your quarantini ready for locktail hour
  • Locktail hour - lockdown cocktail hour
  • Morona - a person acting stupidly during the coronavirus pandemic
  • Quarantini - a martini in quarantine (best consumed at locktail hour)
  • Zoomcee - a moderator on zoom calls
  • Zoom couture - office clothes from the waist up, pyjamas from the waist down
  • Zumped - being dumped in a Zoom call

And that’s just a sample. Tony Thorne, a professional word-watcher, reckons the real total is up around 1000 new words. Mr Thorne is a British author, linguist and lexicographer specialising in slang, jargon and cultural history.

He told CTV: “In any big social upheaval, there’s always a lot of new vocabulary, new words that are generated. And this is the biggest social upheaval we’ve seen, I think, in most people’s lifetime.”

Another interviewer, Matt Galloway on CBC, asked Mr Thorne for his favourite covid words. “I guess my two favourites are quarantini and locktail hour,” he replied.

And there was another new word he liked, one he thinks was coined in Canada… drivecation. “It's having a holiday in your motorhome, in your own driveway.”

Experts say we’re drawn to creating these new words because it helps us cope with stress.

“Verbal play is often undertaken for humorous purposes, serving in part to bring people closer together," says  Ronald Carter, former Professor of modern English language at the University of Nottingham,

Carter goes on to argue that inventive language is not just ornamental, but practical.

The new words give us a convenient shorthand for communicating with people with similar problems and interests. Zoomcee, for example, is a simple way of explaining the role of a moderator in an online call. And it’s easy to figure out that a ‘spendemic’ is a spending spree online during a pandemic.

In Australia, a country that’s very creative about its slang, the ‘isobar’ is where you keep your quarantini when you are in self-isolation.

And the new words keep coming. Here are some more:

  • Covideoparty - friends getting together for drinks, virtually
  • Covidexit - an exit strategy for when lockdown ends
  • Lockdown - if you need it defining, you’re a covidiot
  • Quaranteams - groups put together in lockdown to resolve issues while WFH
  • Spendemic - excessive online shopping during lockdown
  • WFH - working from home
  • Zoom etiquette - avoiding embarrassments while online
  • Zoom fatigue - too many video conferences

This dam-burst of verbal creativity is helping us poke a little fun at the virus that’s caused so much distress and disruption. And it’s comforting to know that at least the language is more than a match for Covid-19.

What are your favourite Covid-related words and phrases? Drop an email to [email protected] nominating your words and telling us how you’d use them in a sentence.