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Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021:

“Are certain words creeping into his conversation?” asks Harold Hill in “The Music Man.” “Words like swell? And so’s your old man?” As the people of River City gasp and lean forward to hear more, out there in the audience we laugh . Because they’re so quaint. But the joke is on us, because new words reflect new ways. We too have words that take us outside our comfort zone. Sometimes we don’t think they should be allowed in the dictionary. Like it or not, 455 new words were just added this month.

Merriam-Webster makes it their business to track those new words that creep into our conversation. In the digital world we live in, they can determine which words are troubling us every day, by tracking the number of look-ups and the increase in look-ups. No surprise–some of those new words have to do with the current pandemic era. Four of the 455 new words added this October are: breakthrough, super-spreader, long COVID, and vaccine passport.

If some of those look like two words to you, they’re not. If they are commonly used together, they are considered a compound word. Bookstore is a word, but so is coffee mug. (See Grammarly Blog, link below).

Here are some more words which the pandemic has added to the dictionary:

  1. Added January 2021: Long-hauler, Pod (or Bubble), Wet market,
  2. Added April 2020: Self-isolate, Physical distancing, Contactless, WFH: “Working from home,” PPE: “Personal protective equipment,” Forehead thermometer, Intensivist. And the “Specialized Medical Words:” Epidemic curve, Immune surveillance, Community immunity, Herd immunity, Remdesivir, Favipiravir, Hydroxychloroquine.
  3. Added September 2019: Vacay, pickleball, they (used as a singular pronoun), among others. Looks like a nice year, in retrospect.

Those dictionary people also designate a Word of the Year and the top ten words distinguished by the most look-ups and steepest increase in look-ups. The Word of the Year for 2020 was PANDEMIC. It spiked highest on March 11, when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Merriam-Webster defines Pandemic as, “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population.” They define Epidemic as, “an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time an outbreak of epidemic disease.”

In other words, the difference is a matter of degree. Using the word pandemic was a judgement call. When Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, made that pandemic call , he was calling attention to the fact that the number of COVID-19 cases outside China had increased 13 times and was spreading rapidly. Never before had a coronavirus caused a pandemic.

This is the situation he described on March 11, 2020: 118,000 cases reported in 114 countries. 57 countries reported less than 10 cases, and 81 countries reported no cases.

All Over the World

Today we have: 246,223,301 cases in 221 countries. 4,993,230 people have died. The disease is still on the increase in many parts of the world. It has decreased in some parts as well. That is what this disease does. It breaks out. It surges. It subsides. But it is not over.

The highest spike for people looking up the word CORONAVIRUS was on March 19, 2020. Quarantine and Asymptomatic were also in the top ten for 2020. None of these were new words, just existing words that were looked up a lot more that year.

The Word of the Year for 2019? They.

I can’t wait to see what the Word of the Year will be for 2021. If you have a favorite nominee, start looking it up now. Words show the changes in our world.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Merriam-Webster adds 455 new words to the dictionary, including ‘fluffernutter’ and ‘dad bod'”, CNN, Oct. 28, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/28/us/merriam-webster-new-words/index.html

“From “dad bod” to “amirite”: These are the new words added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary,” CBS News, Oct. 28, 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dad-bod-amirite-new-words-merriam-webster-dictionary/

“Merriam-Webster added 455 new words to the dictionary, here are the oddest ones,” Insider, Oct. 30, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/merriam-webster-oddest-words-455-added-to-the-dictionary-2021-10

Other Sources:

Lyrics, “Ya Got Trouble,” https://internet.psych.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/532-Master/532-UnitPages/Unit-11/YaGotTrouble_MusicMan_1912.pdf

We Added New Words to the Dictionary for October 2021, Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/new-words-in-the-dictionary

Grammarly Blog, Compound Words, https://www.grammarly.com/blog/open-and-closed-compound-words/

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 March 2020, WHO, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—11-march-2020

Johns Hopkins, Coronavirus Research Center, Oct. 30,2021. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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