Webster’s new dictionary – coronavirus edition

The world changed overnight. The coronavirus outbreak added new words to our vocabulary that didn’t exist a couple of months ago. I did some online research to find definitions of the new expressions we are becoming all too familiar with. 

Novel coronavirus: The word virus comes from the Latin word meaning venom and describes a tiny agent that causes infectious disease. Coronavirus is a family of viruses that got its name from its appearance. The word corona means crown. Scientists thought that, under a microscope, the virus resembled a solar corona, the bright crown-like ring of gasses surrounding the sun which are visible during a solar eclipse. Corona beer based its logo on the crown atop the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Puerto Vallarta. I hope she’s praying for us now. 

The word novel comes from the Latin word novus meaning ‘new’. The name COVID-19 was derived from the year it was first detected (2019) and using letters from CO-rona-VI-rus D-isease. One website rather humorously clarifies the pronunciation of COVID-19 by telling me to sing it to the same cadence as “Come On, Eileen”, the equally contagious song from the 1980’s. I don’t ever want to hear that song again.

Outbreak / Epidemic / Pandemic: An outbreak is “a sudden rise in the incidence of a disease,” usually confined to one area or group of people. An epidemic is when there are outbreaks beyond the origin point. A pandemic is an epidemic that has become a worldwide phenomenon. On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic was underway, citing “alarming levels of spread and severity.” The prefix “pan” suggests the whole of mankind. The pan in pandemic is the same one in the word pandemonium, a description of uproar currently happening in the toilet paper aisle of grocery stores. 

Quarantine: Originally referred to a period of 40 days, (hence the “Quar”). The word’s earliest known use was in a religious context, describing a 40-day period of fasting that emulated the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert. It was also used in legal contexts, describing the period of time a widow could remain in her deceased husband’s home before she started paying somebody rent. In the Middle Ages, Italians adopted the word to describe a 40-day period that boats had to wait before docking, to ensure the passengers weren’t sick with the plague before they were allowed to join the population on land. Kind of like what’s happening in today’s cruise industry. Some things never change.

Isolation: When someone is determined to be sick and is kept apart from others. No man is an island, but in light of the coronavirus we can make an exception.

Self-quarantine: This suggests people voluntarily confining themselves by staying at home, versus being legally confined to a military base by the U.S. Marshals Service. Let’s see how voluntarily working from home goes before we have to institute Marshal Law. 

Spread: How the virus is passed from one person to another. This is a concern for health officials as they try to understand the way the virus moves (hopefully it doesn’t have moves like Jagger). 

Community spread: This means the “spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.” When I was a kid, community spread was a jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise at the Fourth of July barbecue. Who knows how many germs were generated in that jar. We all survived that too.

Social distancing: Measures taken to slow the spread of a disease. Courses of action designed to limit when and where people gather such as closure of schools, houses of worship and other large gathering places. The term  can also be used to describe actions taken by individuals, like choosing not to take public transportation or opting to shop from home instead of going to the store. Social distancing might include businesses telling employees to work from home or executives meeting via video call rather than in their usual conference room.

Social distance can also refer to an individual’s emotional feelings of separation from others. In the case of COVID-19, it generally describes actions taken to minimize contact among people. Facebook was way ahead of the curve on this.

New social greetings have also materialized out of nowhere. The handshake is a thing of the past. 

Elbow bump: An elbow to elbow greeting designed to keep contact between people at a safe distance. My first experience with this was at my doctor’s office when he greeted me with a warm hello and extended his elbow towards me. I reflexively bent my arm and bumped elbows with him. 

Is this a real thing now?” I asked as we tapped elbows.

I’m afraid so,” he said. 

Knee bump: A greeting where people tap knee-to-knee with the person they are greeting. This may not catch on after Elizabeth Warren was shown knee-bumping Jimmy Kimmel as she walked on stage as a guest on his late-night talk how. Absolutely horrifying and humorous at the same time.

Air kiss: A kiss in the air a few safe inches away from the face of the person you are greeting. This was last implemented a couple of week’s ago when I said goodbye to my wife as I left for work and kissed the air next to her cheek.

Seriously?” my wife said.

I’m not taking any chances,” I answered.

Japanese culture had it right all these years with their formal greeting consisting of a polite nod while you bow forward. Domo arigato, Japan.

Boomer-remover: Another name for the Coronavirus. This disturbing new phrase was created by a group of Millennial whipper-snappers who believe a disease that wipes out the older generation is not necessarily a bad thing. My message to all Millennials out there: with age comes wisdom. The younger generation has a lot to learn, not only from the older generation’s mistakes, but from its successes as well.

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