It took two years for the word AIDS to get from coinage to dictionary. It took COVID-19 thirty-four days. The pandemic has inspired a thousand new or repurposed words, slang, nicknames, and neologisms.
It has changed the way we speak.
We made technical medical language part of everyday conversation. We created new words to describe emotions that had no words. We repurposed old words or combined two words to express a way of life we never expected. Lockdowns. WFH. Pancession. Doomscrolling.
We made phrases to unite us, others to make us laugh, and some to explain our confusion. Workers became essential and advertisers made them heroes.
Do you speak Corona?
- Peter Sokolowski is a lexicographer and editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster; he's also a musician and public radio jazz host at NEPR, and he's the author of a chapter in The Whole World in a Book (@PeterSokowski)
- Tony Horne is a linguist, lexicographer, and a language consultant in the faculty of Arts and Humanities, at King’s College, London (@tonythorne007)
- Justin Peters is a correspondent for Slate and the author of The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet (@justintrevett)
Colin McEnroe and Cat Pastor contributed to this show.