Brave New Words

The world around us has changed - so have our words for it

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

New situations and experiences always influence language. Add in a language as fluid, amorphous and receptive as Americanized English, and you have the ideal petri dish for adaptive (or is that mangled?) vocabulary.

We use words to capture and express our discoveries, frustrations and challenges – and each one of us saw plenty of them in the past year or so.

The bulk of our new words are, of course, COVID related, and many more have emerged from our response to it.

Many words are, of course, not “new” – but most of them have taken on new meanings, or maybe new urgency or relevance in our daily lives.

From Zoom-talk (like “take yourself off mute”) to doom-scrolling (staring at that small screen, scrolling from disaster to catastrophe to one political act of incompetence and malfeasance to another and back again) one has to wonder what future generations will think of our contributions to our everyday conversational vocabulary.

Some words and terms have a limited shelf-life (have you heard “flatten the curve” much lately?).

I will certainly be glad when terms like “social distancing” and words like “ventilator” drop out of our common conversations.

Did you ever think it would be near-standard to use words like “droplets” or “self-isolation” in a conversation?

How about “Megxit”?

This, of course, is not COVID related, but is a reference to Prince Harry and Megan (Duke and Duchess of Sussex) and their departure from the UK to California.

“Megxit” takes its cue from “Brexit” – the British departure from the EU.

Ever panic because you don’t have your phone with you? You might be suffering from “nomophobia” (short for no-mobile phobia).

“Covidiots” is a special term for those who publicly disregard basic public safety protocols.

Closely related is the term “super-spreader event”. This could be a wedding, a party, a club, a gender-reveal party (won’t you be glad to see those gone?) or even, not too long ago, in the greatest surge of the pandemic, a White House celebration.

How about the days of the week?

It used to be a question of mental health to ask a confused person what day it is.

In most of 2020, few of us kept track of the days. Working from home only emphasized the blurring of the days. So “blursday” became the name for those days that stretched, with minimal distinction, across our calendars.

The days of the week in the COVID era have blurred together, as has the once-clearly defined world of work and life.

Life/work balance? What a quaint, 1990’s idea.

In 2021 we have the “quarantini,” a cocktail consumed in isolation. Drinking alone used to be a sign of a problem drinker. Now it’s most of us.

But when it comes to idealized fantasies, how about “cottagecore”?

Looking for a simple life, being one with nature, growing your own food and catching great deals at thrift shops? Cottagecore might be for you. (

“Zoonosis” is a word that most of us are not likely to use in everyday conversation, though it might be useful in a Scrabble game. It refers to diseases that pass from animals to humans.

One word that hasn’t changed is “infrastructure” – but our understanding of it certainly has.

In those simple and innocent days before COVID, “infrastructure” meant physical, material things; bridges, rail-lines or highways for example.

Now, for obvious reasons (at least for most of us) “infrastructure” is seen as anything that gets our economy going again.

That could be child care, care-giving for aging and disabled Americans, housing including renovating and retrofitting more than two million homes and housing units, upgrading the country’s drinking water, wastewater and storm water systems, tracking new contaminants and supporting clean water infrastructure, converting street space, like parking, to outdoor eating areas, building new public schools and upgrading existing buildings and of course, near universal, cross-country internet access.

And what about the term/word COVID-19 itself?

If you remember, way back in late 2019 it was called “coronavirus disease 2019” and then Covid-19 (since it emerged in 2019).

But should it be written as COVID-19 or as Covid-19?

“COVID” is dominant in the USA, Canada and Australia, while “Covid”(or Covid-19) is common in the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand, Africa and most of Asia.

One of the ironies/oddities of our era is that, thanks to the internet, and for most of us, a bit more time than we had before, everyone is a researcher and a statistician, an epidemiologist and a linguist.

Our words, our days and our experiences flicker by us faster than we can label, let alone digest them.

How many of these words, phrases and concepts will still be in use a year or two, or five from now?

As I said above, I’ll be glad to see most of them gone, but whether we use any of them again doesn’t really matter – what we will all remember is how well they fit the peculiar set of experiences that is now.

To see more on what we are doing to our language, and what it is doing to us, I suggest this article: