Languages change when new problems come up because we need to words to describe them.

In this video we look at some of the new words that have entered the Oxford English Dictionary since the outbreak of COVID-19, and we’ll show you how we use them in action.

You’ll learn:
– the difference between COVID-19 and the coronavirus
– new acronyms: WFH and PPE
– how the meanings of phrases like social distancing, self isolation have changed over time
– collocations for the adjective non-essential
– how we’re using the words lockdown, stay at home and shelter in place these days.

Language Change with COVID-19

The English we speak is always changing.
There are two things that drive the change. One is contact with other languages and the other is major events that change our lives.
When new problems come up, we need new words to describe them.
And that’s what’s been happening with the coronavirus.
In this video you’ll learn some important new English words and how to use them.
They’re words and phrases that you can use to describe your life and relationships in our new world.
Every three months the Oxford English Dictionary adds new words and phrases.
But because of the coronavirus, more new words and meanings have been coined, so they’ve done an early update.
For example, they’ve added the word COVID-19.
They call it ‘an acute respiratory illness in humans caused by the coronavirus.
Respiratory means connected with breathing and your lungs.
OK, what’s the difference between coronavirus and COVID-19?
Coronavirus is a general term so there are lots of different coronaviruses. The common cold is a coronavirus
More serious viruses like MERS and SARS are coronaviruses too.
COVID-19 is the particular strain of the virus that we’re fighting today. So COVID-19 is a more specific term.
It’s a short form of the phrase ‘coronavirus disease 2019’. 2019 was the year they identified it.
And sometimes it’s called novel coronavirus . Novel means new, because it’s a new coronavirus!
A lot of the new meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary are about how we interact with one another because of COVID-19.
For example, elbow bump.
So an elbow bump is a greeting when we don’t want to shake hands.
But in the past, elbow bumps were like high fives, a sort of celebration.
COVID-19 is making us rethink the way we interact.
Oh. Do you have the figures for February?
Oh sure. Let’s see. Oh, here it is!
I didn’t want to touch that paper after you’d licked your fingers.
We have to learn new habits and with new habits come new words.
Or new meanings of old words.
Here’s one. In the past self-isolation used to describe countries that kept themselves separate.
Historically, some countries have had an isolationist foreign policy where there was no foreign trade and it was very hard for people from other countries to enter.
But now self-isolation means something different.
If someone has or thinks they might have the coronavirus, they self-isolate and keep themselves apart from their family.
They have to stay physically separate and clean and disinfect any common areas.
Another word like that is self-quarantine.
Quarantine is a length of time when a person or animal is kept separate so that they don’t infect anyone with a disease.
But these days people are self-quarantining, so they don’t infect their families.
Self-quarantining is really tough to do.
And here’s another phrase that’s changed its meaning: social distancing.
You’ll hear this a lot.
In the past, social distancing meant not wanting to engage socially with other people.
We went to a networking event last night.
Oh, what was it like?
It was very useful. There were about a dozen people there and everyone made a short presentation.
I didn’t like it.
Did you meet any interesting people?
Yes. Well I did.
I didn’t talk to anybody.
So you kept your social distance from everyone at the event.
I didn’t want to get involved.
You didn’t want to talk to them!
But these days social distancing is less about feelings and attitudes and more about physical distance.
We need to stay six feet apart.
So now we get our groceries delivered, but the delivery person is careful not to come near us.
They leave the food on the front doorstep and go away.
Have a good day.
Thank you so much.
You’re welcome. Take care.
Thank you, bye.
We have lovely neighbours and we used to stand at the wall on our deck and chat to them.
But now we understand that we need to keep our distance.
Joao! Hello!
How are you doing?
We also have some new English acronyms.
An acronym is when you take the first letters of a phrase and turn them into a word.
Do you know what this means?
It means working from home and you’ll see it a lot in emails.
It’s usually written. When we’re speaking we normally say working from home.
How are you finding working from home Jay?
Oh it’s great! I never get bored in meetings any more.
Another new acronym is PPE.
We talked about that in our last video.
It stands for personal protective equipment, but that takes a long time to say so we just say PPE.
Doctors and nurses need PPE to protect themselves.
And we’re starting to wear PPE now too.
Good morning colleagues. Welcome back to work after the shutdown. Please remember to sit six feet apart. And please remember to wear masks. And don’t forget to wear gloves.
When something big like COVID-19 happens, we have change our ways.
It makes us rethink all the things we do in our lives.
What really matters? What’s important in life?
Here’s an adjective that’s been rising in frequency.
If something is non-essential it means it isn’t necessary
We talk about non-essential travel, non-essential workers, non-essential businesses…
For example, where we live in Philadelphia they’ve closed non-essential businesses.
But what is a non-essential business?
That’s a good question because people disagree.
Non-essential businesses are often recreational, so things like theatres, museums, restaurants, bars…
Schools have closed too, of course.
Here’s another group phrases we’re hearing a lot.
A lockdown is an official order that’s given in a dangerous situation. It controls the movement of people or vehicles.
Prisoners in jail might be placed on lockdown if there’s violence.
A lockdown is very strict and it suggests danger.
But these days people people are using ‘lockdown’ when they’re just talking about staying at home when they really want to go out.
In Philadelphia, we have a ‘stay at home’ order which sounds a little less strict than a lockdown.
We can go out, but only to do essential tasks like shopping for food.
Some states in the US have another term: ‘shelter in place’
This is interesting because ‘shelter in place’ used to be connected with gun violence in the US.
Well it’s still used if there’s an active shooter with a gun. People are told to shelter in place.
It means stay where you are and don’t move.
But now, with COVID-19 it can just mean ‘don’t go out’.
It’s become another way of saying ‘stay at home’.
We know a lot of you are obeying the rules and staying at home too
Yeah. We’ve loved reading your comments and hearing how you’re coping with the coronavirus in your part of the world.
Staying at home has been our best defense and thank you for doing that.
I have a question. Have you noticed any new words and meanings entering your language too?
Write and tell us if you have.
We want to hear about them.
And thanks to everyone who has already written and please keep the comments coming.
And don’t forget to wash your hands.
And don’t forget to call your grandparents, wash your hands and keep safe.

Click here to see another video we made about the coronavirus.



8 thoughts on “New English Words and Language Change with COVID-19”

  1. Hello, here in France, we use this word a lot : ‘confinement’. Which is an English word too, I assume? Thanks for your videos and your help – It is still a pleasure to receive a mail in my inbox as I know there is a new video… Regards

    1. Hi Patrick, thanks for sharing this. Yes, confinement is an English word and in the past ‘being in confinement’ was used when a woman was in labour having a baby. 🙂 We’re so glad you liked the video.

  2. Hello !!!
    I’m writing from uk. I’m here learning English and your videos are very useful!!! It helps to me a lot 🙂
    I love the way both are teaching english. There are a lot dedication and work behind. You do a great job
    Thank you so much !!!!
    Keep safe and healthy !!!

  3. Marie Cécile Grèzes

    Hello !

    I just discovered your vidéos; They are very interesting.

    I live in the south of France where we talked about “confinement”, “distanciation sociale”, “geste barrière”, “cluster”, “asymptomatique”.

    Thank you so much

    Best regards

  4. Isabel Rodríguez

    You’re fantastic! I enjoyed seeing your video. You make it funny! Thank you for the video 🙂
    Thank a lot.

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