Do you speak Covid? The new language of our times

Nationwide lockdowns are reshaping the world, and after just two months, our lives already bear little resemblance to what they once were. As we grapple to understand Covid-19 and its implications, we can’t help but see the vocabulary it is ushering in. Here’s a sampling of the lingo we’ve become all too familiar with.


CDC coronavirus

Nationwide lockdowns are reshaping the world, and after just two months, our lives already bear little resemblance to what they once were. Here at Catchword, as we grapple to understand Covid-19 and its implications, we can’t help but see the vocabulary it is ushering in—from epidemiological and medical terms to government-promoted slogans to never-before-heard colloquialisms. Here’s a sampling of the lingo we’ve become all too familiar with.

Panic Buying

We’ve all experienced it: scarcity of toilet paper, Clorox, hand sanitizer, and flour; empty shelves at the supermarket; six-week delays on online orders. Panic buying, or the hoarding of products due to fear of a shortage, set in early in the States.


Pronounced “R-naught,” R0 is a measure of contagiousness, representing the number of new infections stemming from a single case. In April, The New York Times reported that the Coronavirus has an R0 of 2 to 2.5, meaning 1,000 infected people will in turn infect 2,000 to 2,500 more. But this number shifts as new data becomes available, and communities can affect this number by simply changing behavior. In fact, our own Santa Clara County has driven its R0 down to as little as 1 after its shelter-in-place order.

Anticipatory Grief

The New York Times, Boston Globe, and a number of other news outlets gave us the okay to collectively grieve this month and attempted to help us understand our feelings of free fall, depression, and anxiety. Anticipatory grief is basically the result of imagining the worst. It’s the sinking feeling we get when the future feels unsure, when death feels imminent—ours or a loved one’s. While we all may process this feeling differently, NPR has some great suggestions on how to truly honor it.

Herd Immunity

An idea currently being explored in Sweden, herd immunity occurs when the virus is met with little resistance, spreading like wildfire across communities. When most of the population has had Covid-19 and become immune to it, they provide indirect protection (or herd immunity) to those who have yet to suffer its ills.


A super-spreader is just that: a patient who infects significantly more people with Covid-19 than is expected or typical. An established 20/80 rule suggests that around 20% of people are likely to be responsible for 80% of transmissions.

Flatten the Curve

An early rallying cry in the US, flatten the curve means slowing the spread of coronavirus, so that fewer people need treatment at a single time. Through measures like social distancing, mask wearing, and sheltering in place, we protect ourselves while preventing our hospitals and healthcare providers from being overburdened.

graphic by RCraig09 from Wikimedia Commons


Alone Together

We’re all feeling isolated right now. Alone Together, a popular hashtag, reminds us that though we may be physically apart—from friends, family members, even co-workers—we are in this together. It reminds us to forget our FOMO (fear of missing out) and find unity even in the most trying of times.

Rona, Roni, Miss Rona, Aunt Rona

Clipped from the longer coronavirus, Rona is a playful or ironic way of referring to Covid-19 when commenting on the more amusing challenges of our new normal. Though light in sound, it’s meant to be a point of connection (bringing people together in joint understanding), rather an exhibition of flippancy about the seriousness of the pandemic.

Mask Shaming

As masks become mandatory in much of the nation, feelings of both individual and community responsibility abound. Out of fear for one’s health or the health of others, or a desire to underline the importance of civic duty, some citizens have taken up verbally shaming others for not wearing a mask.


Politicians who “forget” to wear masks in public, partying spring-breakers in Florida, the woman in the checkout line with 10 times the paper goods she needs … a Covidiot is someone who ignores public-health warnings and current social norms—sometimes out of ignorance and sometimes out of pure stubbornness.

The Sidewalk Dance

You see someone walking on your side of the sidewalk. They’re not wearing a mask, and they definitely aren’t looking to swerve. You skip to the other side, jump into the bushes or onto the grass, and then—breathe easy. We’ve all been there. In an article published on Medium, the sidewalk dance is described as the strange social-distancing move made by two people in order to ensure a six-foot berth, sometimes performed deadpan, sometimes with a smile or nod, and sometimes with a look of sheer terror.


Once a term for privileged, middle-aged white women, Karen has taken on a nuanced meaning in the time of Covid-19. According to The Atlantic, Karens are obsessed with consumer trends and personal appearance and have a penchant for complaining loudly. In our current environment, Karens are making the rounds on social media for defiance of social distancing and government orders. But the result isn’t all bad; as The Atlantic notes, Karen memes are helping to highlight a certain type of privilege and major racial disparities among those infected.

Zoom Dread

As the virtual conference of choice, Zoom has taken over our lives. From digital workouts to online all-hands meetings, to book clubs and happy hours, Zoom delivers it all—straight to our living room. But for some, it brings people a little too close for comfort. The anxiety of taking yourself off mute, getting trapped in a conversation without a clear exit, or accidentally not signing off, Zoom dread is enough to make us wish webcams were never invented.


At that start of quarantine, the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten, reminded us to “Stay safe, have a very good time, and don’t forget the cocktails.” We couldn’t agree more. Quarantinis, a cocktail imbibed while social distancing, are on the rise. Toasting from afar never felt so good.


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