May 18, 2022

Oxford English Dictionary: “Social Change and Linguistic Change: The Language of Covid-19”

From the Oxford English Dictionary Blog Post by Bernadette Paton, Executive Editor: New Words, OED Management:

The OED is updating its coverage to take account of these developments, and as something of a departure, this update comes outside of our usual quarterly publication cycle. But these are extraordinary times, and OED lexicographers, who like many others are all working from home (WFH, first attested as a noun in 1995 and as a verb in 2001), are tracking the development of the language of the pandemic and offering a linguistic and historical context to their usage.

Some of the terms with which we have become so familiar over the past few weeks through the news, social media, and government briefings and edicts have been around for years (many date from the nineteenth century), but they have achieved new and much wider usage to describe the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Self-isolation (recorded from 1834) and self-isolating (1841), now used to describe self-imposed isolation to prevent catching or transmitting an infectious disease, were in the 1800s more often applied to countries which chose to detach themselves politically and economically from the rest of the world.

As well as these nineteenth century terms put to modern use, more recent epidemics and especially the current crisis have seen the appearance of genuinely new words, phrases, combinations, and abbreviations which were not necessarily coined for the coronavirus epidemic, but have seen far wider usage since it began. Infodemic (a portmanteau word from information and epidemic) is the outpouring of often unsubstantiated media and online information relating to a crisis. The term was coined in 2003 for the SARS epidemic, but has also been used to describe the current proliferation of news around coronavirus.

Direct to Full Text Article (approx. 1130 words)

See Also: Coronavirus and the New Words We Added to the Dictionary in March 2020 (March 18, 2020)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.