Health

Coronavirus-Related Words Have Already Become Merriam-Webster Official

“Because the COVID-19 crisis has developed at such a rapid pace and some of the words and ideas associated with the crisis are themselves new, we have made an unscheduled update for words connected with the disease and responses to it.”

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Merriam-Webster only introduces words after they’ve been cited extensively “over a considerable period of time”—but the dictionary publisher has made an exception for the coronavirus.

On March 18, Merriam-Webster announced an update to its free online dictionary with words pertaining to COVID-19.

“Because the COVID-19 crisis has developed at such a rapid pace and some of the words and ideas associated with the crisis are themselves new, we have made an unscheduled update for words connected with the disease and responses to it,” the announcement explained.

The update includes new words like “COVID-19,” defined as “a new name for a new disease, coined as an abbreviated form of coronavirus disease 2019.” It also includes revisions to definitions and citations of existing words pertaining to the virus.

According to a report by Slate, Merriam-Webster began monitoring coronavirus-related words in January. Per the company’s typical practices, it then added the new words to a spreadsheet and began to gather evidence as to why they should be added to the dictionary. The company originally planned to publish a blog post with the trending coronavirus-related words, but decided instead to introduce them, based on how quickly and widely the words have spread.

“It seemed clear that our responsibility was to provide the answers people are looking for without delay,” Merriam’s publisher and chief digital officer, Lisa Schneider, told Slate.

This isn’t the first time that the publisher has accelerated its normally stringent rules to define language pertaining to a spreading disease.   

“In rare cases, a word jumps onto the scene and is both instantly prevalent and likely to last, as was the case in the 1980s with AIDS,” Merriam-Webster states on one of its info pages. “In such a situation, the editors determine that the word has become firmly established in a relatively short time and should be entered in the dictionary, even though its citations may not span the wide range of years exhibited by other words.”

However, the inclusion of AIDS in the dictionary still took several years, whereas the inclusion of COVID-19, a word that was first introduced on February 11, took less than two months.