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  • Writer's pictureDavid Nagai

Talking About Coronavirus

Updated: May 21, 2021

This post offers some useful vocabulary and explanations that are helpful when you speak about coronavirus in English.

The word corona originates from the Latin word korone, which means ‘crown’ or ‘wreath.’ Imagine the outer edge of a circle. The word corona is used for the coronavirus because of the crown-like shape and texture of the virus when you see it up close under a microscope.

Corona is also Mexico's most globally recognized brand of beer. Their logo includes a crown, which makes sense because of the word's origin.

A virus is an infective agent that is too small to be seen without a microscope and can multiply itself and spread. Viruses are generally negative and dangerous. Of course, computers can also have viruses that spread and cause problems.

Viral describes a disease that spreads. Regarding information, images, videos, or some type of information that circulates and spreads fast and widely, we also describe it as ‘viral.’ We say something ‘goes’ viral.

An endemic is a disease or condition that is present in a community at all times but in relatively low frequency. It is a common problem and not a surprise. Examples are malaria or the chicken pox. Endemic comes from the Greek roots en (in) and demos (people), meaning ‘in the population.’

An epidemic is a sudden severe occurrence of an infectious disease in a community or region at a particular time. It is usually a sudden surprise. Epidemic comes from the Greek roots epi (upon) and demos (people), meaning ‘upon the people’.

A pandemic is when a disease is prevalent over a whole country or the world. It comes from the Greek roots pan (all) demos (people), meaning ‘all people’. We can also see pan in various words like pansexual and pan-American.

Essentially, an epidemic can become a pandemic if it is not controlled.

Quarantine is a place or situation where people or animals are forced to remain isolated because they have been exposed to an infectious disease. We usually say that a group of people is ‘under quarantine.’

A lockdown is similar to quarantine because the area is controlled, but the reasons for it can vary. For example, if there is a shooting, bomb threat, riot, important investigation, and so on. We usually say that a building is 'on lockdown,' ‘under lockdown,’ or ‘experiencing a lockdown.’

Infectious diseases can spread in many ways.

Contagious diseases are called contagious because they are spread in various ways specifically from person to person.

Outbreak is the noun used to describe a disease or condition in a place. We can also say break out as a verb. For example, to break out with symptoms of some disease (mostly for skin problems). We usually say break out with something. Like, "I broke out with a rash."

There are also many other ways to use break out. Here are some examples:

  • Break out of prison. (Escape) There was a breakout (noun) last night at the prison.

  • Break out with a rash. (When a bad skin problem appears)

  • Break out in laughter. (Suddenly start laughing)

  • Break out in song. (Suddenly start singing)

  • Break out in dance. (Suddenly start dancing)

  • Break out in tears. (Suddenly start crying)

  • Break out the champagne. Break out the guitar. (Open or bring out something)

More importantly than understanding how to talk about coronavirus, I hope the situation can be controlled as soon as possible so that no more people have to suffer and live in fear.

Wash your hands and stay safe!


Want to connect with the changing world in English?

online or in Yokohama-Motomachi

to expand your:

creative thinking

global awareness

cross-cultural communication

(Advanced and intermediate only)

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