How a pandemic changed the way we speak

Claire Campbell and Will McGlynn

Infographic created using canva.com (Photo by Kaitlin Bavaro)

COVID-19 has managed to disrupt the lives of people across the globe, forcing them inside, limiting interaction with others, and causing a steep rise in unemployment. But, when the post-pandemic world returns to normalcy, one thing will be forever changed: the way we speak to one another. 

Language has always been subject to change due to factors such as the development of new technologies. New terms are added to our vocabularies to accurately name and describe the invention. For example, technology is responsible for the new meaning of “cloud” as a virtual storage space, rather than a vapor mass in the sky. 

The pandemic has created an extensive list of new vocabulary because the virus has, unfortunately, become a prevalent force in our lives. COVID-19 has forever changed how people speak about health and medicine, defining 2020 so far. 

Just as the expressions and terms we use on social media are woven into our face-to-face conversations, the words used to describe the status of the virus, medical products, and the current situation are already commonplace in articles, news reports, and our everyday dialogue. 

Before the global pandemic, the term “social distancing” was foreign to us. Now, we use the term as a noun, adjective, and verb on a daily basis.

In addition, COVID-19 has made medical terms more accessible to the average citizen. Terms such as immunocompromised (having a weakened immune system) or zoonosis (spreading a virus from an animal to a human) have made their way into our conversations via news and social media.

Before the emergence of COVID-19, most people without a medical degree would be unable to describe the family of viruses known as coronaviruses. No one talked about “flattening the curve” or complained about their boredom as a consequence of “self-isolating.” 

An article from theatlantic.com labeled this as the “corona generation.” COVID-19 has become a generation-defining pandemic due to the sheer scale of people it affects.

 The world will hopefully never see something like COVID-19 again, but the pandemic’s impact on language will last for years to come. Things like social distancing, quarantine, and pandemic have become real for people worldwide and these new terms allow people to articulate their experiences.