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  • Morana Lukač

The Language of the Coronavirus: A Timeline

Updated: Mar 20

It's fascinating to observe the speed with which we are acquiring the language and concepts relating to the coronavirus. I'm still learning as I go while trying to wrap my head around the exact implications of terms like "herd immunity" and "lockdown". I've retraced the origins of some of the terms that have entered the lexicon in the past weeks.


March 6 — social distancing (reducing social contact to minimize disease transmission)


Science publishes a paper on the effects of the travel ban in Wuhan. According to one of its authors travel restrictions aren’t enough unless coupled with social distancing.

(The concept has been around for a while though: the Bible's Book of Leviticus, 13:46: "And the leper in whom the plague is...he shall dwell alone; [outside] the camp shall his habitation be.")


March 8 — flattening the curve (community-level action for slowing the epidemic through social distancing, sanitation efforts and travel restrictions)


The term is popularized along with the infographic developed by Carl T. Bergstrom and Esther Kim.


March 10 — Stay the Fuck Home


The phrase captures the grassroots movement started by Florian Reifschneider for fighting COVID-19 by staying at home. The corresponding website includes a "self-quarantine manifesto".


March 11 — pandemic (a global outbreak of a disease)


On this day, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially changes its classification of COVID-19 from a public health emergency of international concern to a pandemic.


March 15 — hamsteren (Dutch word for "hoarding", "to hamster")


The word goes viral after it is translated to Dutch Sign Language (Nederlandse Gebarentaal or NGT). The vivid portrayal hits a nerve across the world.

March 15 — hunker down (to dig in or settle in to ride out troubled times)


Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in the US, tells people to "hunker down" to stop the spread of COVID-19. Mignon Fogarty gives detailed insights into the usage of the phrase.


March 16 — herd immunity (a controversial idea about an indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population are immune to an infection)


After Boris Johnson’s public address, the Dutch PM Mark Rutte follows suit and announces that the Netherlands will fight the coronavirus by applying the controversial “herd immunity” policy. The scientific community protests to the idea.


March 18 — social recession (a profound effect of long-term isolation on people’s physical, as well as mental health)


Psychologists warn of the consequences of social isolation, which range from increase in anxiety or depression to effects on our physiology. People are urged to use tech (especially voice and video calls) as substitutes for face-to-face contact with others.

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©2019 by Morana Lukač.