Many might use a bluer choice for the word of the year than the all-too-familiar COVID, but after much deliberation Ben Zimmer (WSJ) has chosen it as the overall winner of Word of the Year.
It’s hard even to think back to the beginning of 2020—aka the Before Times—when those five letters carried no meaning. The closest you might have gotten to it was “corvid,” known to bird lovers as a term covering crows, jays, magpies and ravens.
That changed on Feb. 11, when the World Health Organization announced that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus would henceforth be known as “Covid-19.” “I’ll spell it,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained in a media briefing streamed around the world. “C-O-V-I-D hyphen one nine—Covid-19.”
The name was formed as an acronym of “coronavirus disease 2019,” but within hours of the news, people were shortening it even further to simple “Covid.” Neil Stone, a consultant in infectious diseases at London’s University College Hospital, tweeted that day, “Names matter. The novel #Coronavirus has how [sic] been named #Covid,” already converting the shorthand name into a hashtag.
Ben Zimmer, a linguist and lexicographer, analyzes the origins of words in the news.