Vocabulary gone viral: From 'asymptomatic' to 'Zoom', COVID-19 has broadened our lexicon
This year of COVID-19 has changed the way we live, clearly, but in a subtle way it's also changed the way we talk.
There are words and phrases that we say now without a second thought that one year ago we didn't even know existed.
At this point, "Pfizer or Moderna?" is a perfectly acceptable pick-up line, right up there with, "Your Zoom room or mine?"
I remember last March I asked my 7-year-old niece how school was going, and she said in the cutest little way: "Um good, Uncle Shad."
I asked her the same thing today, and she said. "Asynchronous learning isn't as constructive as the hybrid model, but I'm in cohort A, so that's cool." Aww, they grow up so fast.
But here's the weird part. I knew exactly what she was talking about.
It's a whole new world of words. And I thought I'd try to have a little fun with it since I'm the type of guy who strives to find the bright side of things. Or in 2021 parlance, you might say I have a high positivity rate.
I've picked 10 words or phrases that are all too familiar to us now, but I'm going to pretend like someone asked me to define them one year ago. Here we go:
Contact tracing: A new eye surgery which is eight times more effective than Lasik.
Super-spreader: That is what you call a man who sits in a certain uncouth way on the subway.
Fauci: This is what a dad yells when he stubs his toe, starts to swear and then changes his mind mid-word because his 5-year-old daughter is nearby.
Case rate: What a lawyer charges, or how much my 24-pack of Coors Light costs at BevMo!
Stay-at-home order: What clueless movie parents give to their teen-age children as they're walking out the door for a weekend getaway. "Now kids, there's money on the counter for a pizza. Don't get into trouble while we're away. Just stay at home. We're counting on you." Two hours later the kids are hosting an epic rager with half the school trashing the house, and, uh oh, it looks like someone drove dad's riding lawnmower into the pool.
Herd immunity: When a bunch of cattle have built such sturdy legs that they are resistant to any and all cow-tipping attempts.
Flatten the curve: First instinct is that's what my wife wishes I would do to my beer belly, but it also makes me think of baseball. Flattening the curve is what a power-hitting outfielder does to a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher. Side note: Have you ever seen a super slow-motion video of a bat hitting a baseball or a golf club hitting a golf ball? Total curve-flattening moments.
PPE: So you're telling me PPE stands for something? OK, I'll take a few cracks at it. Polished Pelican Eggs? Picturesque Partial Eclipse? Pink Panther Energy? Pretty Please Edna? Pulled Pork Enchiladas? Parker Posey's Email? Pterodactyl Pneumonia Eulogy (just wanted to try one with a silent P, P and E). Was I close? No, not really, it stands for Personal Protective Equipment. Really? That's kind of anticlimactic.
Purple tier: That's the best part of the parking garage at the Prince Museum. Because I like my dumb jokes to be authentic, such a place does exist and it is part of his home called Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn.
Social-distancing: Me on Friday and Saturday nights in high school ... and most of college. Let's just say I definitely wouldn't have been invited to the "stay-at-home order" kids' party.
It's always been fascinating how our language evolves. New words are created. Other words go out of style.
Miriam Webster's "word of the year" for 2020 was pandemic. Runners-up were quarantine and asymptomatic.
“That probably isn't a big shock,” Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, told The Associated Press. “Often the big news story has a technical word that's associated with it, and in this case, the word 'pandemic' is not just technical but has become general. It's probably the word by which we'll refer to this period in the future."
Ah yes, the future. How much if any of our new COVID-19 lexicon will remain five years from now?
Time will tell, I suppose, but in the meantime we are still mask-deep in this pandemic, so let's look out for each other. With that in mind, I thought I would do the neighborly thing and offer to share some of my PPE. Because I made way too many of these pulled pork enchiladas.
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. He'd like to hear your PPE alternatives. Send them to him at email@example.com.