Corona Lexicon: More Words & Phrases You Need To Know


The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in certain words and phrases becoming popular worldwide. So much as that breaking the chain or flattening the curve has now kind of become part of our daily lingo.

In our first story on corona lexicon published on April 3, 2020, terms like Quarantine, Lockdown, Social Distancing, Super Spreader, Self-Isolation, Mask and Janata Curfew were explained along with their etymology. Here are some more terms/phrases that have become part of the COVID-19 glossary:


Perhaps first used in the 1600s, the term Epidemic is derived from its French root epidemique or Greek epidemia (‘epi’ meaning among and ‘demos’ meaning people). Etymologically, it has no connection with diseases. Pandemic is derived from the Latin word pandemus or perhaps the Greek word pandemosmeaning “pertaining to all people” (‘pan’ meaning all and ‘demos’ meaning ‘people). The word pandemic was perhaps first used in 1853. Outbreak is a verbal phrase – a combination of the words ‘out’ and ‘break’ which originally meant to escape from some kind of confinement (first used maybe in 1300s).

In the modern terminology and COVID-19 context, outbreak means a sudden spread of a particular disease. Epidemic would mean the outbreak spreading further. And when the disease spreads to a larger geographical area, it assumes the form of a pandemic. Pandemic can be understood as a widespread epidemic.


PPE is an acronym for personal protective equipment. It refers to protective clothing and accessories that are designed to safeguard the body from any kind of injury. It is worn for job-related ‘occupational safety’, health, sports or recreation. In case of COVID-19, it includes all equipment that help control and prevent the spread of infection. It includes gloves, mask, complete protective body gear of health workers, sanitisers etc.


It means to stay inside the premises of a place where one is stationed (as opposed to evacuation) because of some natural calamity, pandemic, epidemic, chemical contamination and the like. Perhaps this term was first used in 2009 at Contra Costa County in California, where a teenager committed suicide by mixing chemicals. At that point in time, a ‘shelter in place’ was ordered for three hours in view of the safety of the nearby residents who might have been in danger of inhaling the
toxic fumes. ‘Shelter in place’ is now used in the context of COVID-19 where people are required to stay at home (except for essential businesses/ commodities) as a measure of social distancing so as not
to spread the coronavirus.


This phrase was first used in 2007 in a scientific research paper. Essentially, it is a graph to show the slowdown process of COVID-19 cases. ‘Flattening the curve’ means to give sufficient time and gap to make efforts to reduce the number of corona patients by methods like frequently washing hands, social distancing, work from home, lockdown, self-isolation, quarantine and similar initiatives. ‘Flattening the
curve’ helps in reducing the load on healthcare professionals because it gives them time to deal with the cases instead of too much loading of patients at a time. Sooner or later, the cases might or might not emerge because of the efforts taken by people for ‘flattening the curve’. Cut to the chase, it can be termed as a precautionary measure. In 1918, during the Spanish flu, St. Louis was successful in
flattening the curve through social distancing methods whereas Philadelphia lost about 16,000 lives in 72 hours by taking the flu casually and roaming in masses on the streets.


In the context of COVID-19, ‘slowing the spread’ is being synonymously used with ‘flattening the curve’. It includes all the measures of social distancing that delays transmission of the infectious virus from onevperson to another.


Perhaps this word was first used in the 14th century. One might have come across the word in the sense of a fish spawning, a crab/ lobster/any crustacean about to molt, a dog losing its fur or snake scaling. But lately, this term is being used with reference to the coronavirus, which is supposed to be a remarkable ‘shedder’ because of its ability
to replicate very fast in an extraordinary manner in its host body as well as people around the infected person. The virus sheds through mucus, phlegm and droplets. Studies claim the coronavirus patients shed their infectious virus from their respiratory tract till 37 days.


This term is usually used in the backdrop of a disease. In case of COVID-19, persons are usually infected when they come in contact with an infected person or a person with a travel history from a region affected by COVID-19. However, sometimes there might be development of an infection otherwise too and it can be difficult to trace. The disease, at this juncture, often referred to as Stage 3 in the case of COVID-19 spreads in the population without people being aware of how the infection spread. At this stage, it becomes difficult to control the spread.


It is the process of finding out with whom the infected person might have come in contact, and accordingly track the spread of infection. In the case of COVID-19, such persons traced by the government are quarantined for at least 14 days and monitored to control the spread of coronavirus. Mobile apps like Aarogya Setu are being developed for contact tracing of coronavirus.


In English law, ‘breaking the chain’ (or novus actus interveniens or new intervening act) refers to the idea that “causal connections are deemed to finish”. ‘Breaking the chains’ was also used by the American
metal band Dokken in 1981. The phrase is often used to describe a disruption in the addictive behaviour of a person or any ‘wrong’ trend of society. Recently, this phrase is being used in the backdrop of the
COVID-19 pandemic. Even if each infected person spreads the virus to just two other persons, the chain of cases would significantly rise. Avoiding even a single community transfer can majorly reduce the
number of COVID-19 cases. Hence, it is required to ‘break the chain’, which would mean to disrupt increase in the number of affected persons from the dreaded virus.


The phrase was first used in 1879, according to the Merriam-Webster. In medical terms, it is referred to as the time gap between the infection of an individual by the source to the manifestation of the disease. In case of COVID-19, the minimum incubation period is seen to be 5 days (as of now) and usually stretches to 12 days. However, a 14-day quarantine is maintained (on a safe side) for people suspected to be infected with the coronavirus.


Generally, the phrase is used for the tendency of people to buy in excess to hoard up things (especially essential commodities like food, fuel etc) in apprehension of spike in prices or shortage in supplies. This phenomena cause shortage of commodities for people who haven’t brought the stuff.

In case of COVID-19, there has been a tendency of people to indulge in panic buying in many affected countries like India, USA and UK. BBC cites that the reason of panic buying might be due to people getting some kind of high and in control of the situation by buying more than necessary. It also cites other reasons such as low confidence in the government taking charge of the situation (calamity), media propagating paranoia or simply the person (panic buyer) being anxious.

(The writer is assistant professor at Ramadevi University)

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