Commentary: COVID – What’s in a word? One we will never forget

Commentary: COVID – What's in a word?  One we will never forget
COVID-19 is one of the new words in the English lexicon.

Irene Jackson is a guitar teacher, musician and general writer “wanna-be” living in the beautiful city of Victoria, B.C. Her website is at

So how have you all been keeping yourself busy out there lately? Maybe doing more reading? Gardening? Baking? Baking bread is a big one these days. Who’d a thunk it? Maybe you’re playing more games and puzzles. Puzzles are especially popular right now.

Me? Well, I’ve gotten big into words. Yes, I know. I’m a bit of a word nerd. I turned into one years ago when I realized my lyrics had to say more than “Ooh, yeah, baby, baby.”

Take Joni Mitchell for instance. Now SHE could write lyrics.

“Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
Taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
Still be on my feet.”
Joni Mitchell, A Case Of You

Yeah, like that. FAR superior to ooh, yeah, baby, baby.

Recently, I discovered the Twitter account of the dictionary Merriam-Webster, set up by its editors. They post a word a day or facts and observations on language, and I was inspired to follow them. Sometimes they just post obscure words like “pennyweighter” or “psittaceous”, both which, by the way, my spellchecker immediately highlighted as incorrect. Well, this time YOU’RE wrong, spellchecker! Psittaceous means “like a parrot”, and a pennyweighter is a thief who steals jewelry by substituting a fake for a valuable piece. Just like spellchecker, I’ll bet none of you knew those words. I sure didn’t.

The interesting thing about the English language, as with most languages I suppose, is that it is a fluid thing. Although some words hang around for a long time – the word “love”, for instance, has been around for at least 1,100 years – others fall by the wayside. Every year, dictionaries cast out old, unused words in favour of new, sexy ones. Last year, in 2019, a number of words stopped appearing in dictionaries. Like snollygoster, a dishonourable person, or frigorific, something that causes cold or is chilling. I would say that COVID-19 is definitely frigorific. Maybe they should reconsider that word.

So every year, as far as dictionaries are concerned, it’s out with the old and in with the new. Words can even evolve in their meanings. Remember how Google used to be just a browser? And then one day, it became a verb. We google everything now. Even things we shouldn’t google. Like our painful or uncomfortable physical symptoms, because it could be CANCER right?!? Maybe we just need to get healthy and swole instead of turning into a fatberg! Okay, I’m just being a bampot now (a foolish, annoying or obnoxious person). Just so you know, I sort of misused the word “fatberg”, but it sounded so perfect.

Words that we shorten just because we’re lazy or trying to be cool often end up in the dictionary. Like “vacay”, short for vacation, “sesh” for session, or “inspo” for inspiration. These were all added to Merriam-Webster in 2019.

Some words I’d rather not hear so often these days, but they are omnipresent.


For instance, Google Trends reported the words “coronavirus” and “pandemic” were trending and reached their peaks near the end of March, when many of us were hearing those words for the first time, or we just wanted to get a better understanding of their meaning. And the Oxford English Dictionary will be adding, among others, two new words this spring; COVID-19 and infodemic. How portentous. And then there’s “doomsurfing” and “doomscrolling”. It doesn’t take much imagination to know what those words mean. We need to take a vacay from that.

There are other words that I feel confident will never leave the dictionary because their importance and their use will never diminish. Words like “hope” and “kindness” and “helpful”. And let’s not forget “thanks”. I’m sure you can think of some too. Let’s keep using them and living by them so they never cease to be.

Thanks for reading :-)

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Irene JacksonIrene Jackson

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