9 Words and Phrases to Help You Talk About Coronavirus

9 Words and Phrases to Help You Talk About Coronavirus

It’s an uncertain and confusing time for us all.

Will we be able to leave the house before the summer?

What about cat food? Will we have enough?

Coronavirus has totally changed our lives — there’s no denying it!

One thing I’ve noticed since this crisis started is all these new words and phrases that we’ve all started using.

If you know me well, you’ll know that I LOVE new words and phrases.

And I love sharing them, too.

So let’s check out the most common words and phrases that have emerged since coronavirus decided to turn our worlds upside down.

But before we start, just a quick question:

How are you doing? Are you staying safe? Have you now got too much hand sanitiser and, for some reason, now have 43 tabs open on your browser?

Are you now a master of Netflix and Facebook live videos?

However you’re dealing with this, I hope you’re safe and well and, if you’re sick and tired of hearing about coronavirus, then may I suggest Googling “cat video.”

Meanwhile, if you’re up for this …

On with the phrases!

The elbow bump

Let’s start with a fun one, shall we?

So with kissing and touching and hugging and even shaking hands off the menu, how do we greet each other?

Well — there’s always the elbow bump.

What does it mean?

Instead of shaking hands or kissing or hugging or whatever when you greet someone, you just tap your elbows together (also known as an “elbow tap”).

Like this:

Two smiling stick figures doing the elbow bump

How can I use it?

This phrase usually works with the verb “do.”

“When you see me, we’ll do the elbow bump, OK? No touching!”

You can also use it as a verb. Here’s a recent headline:

“Sanders, Biden bump elbows ahead of debate.”

By the way, this probably isn’t the best way to greet people as you’ll still need to get quite close to someone to do the elbow bump.

Try these instead: namaste, wave your hands, go on Skype.

Outbreak vs. epidemic vs. pandemic

What is it?

So what exactly is coronavirus?

Well, sure — it’s a virus.

But there are a lot of terms being used to describe it.

Is it an outbreak? Or an epidemic? Or a pandemic?

Well, it’s all of them.

It started off as an outbreak — when the number of people infected suddenly went up for the first time — then went on to become an epidemic — it spread into the local area — then, as it got bigger and bigger, it became a pandemic — it went beyond the local area and started affecting more and more places.

So you can describe it as a global pandemic.

Map of the world showing a small dot in China labelled "outbreak," a larger pink area around the dot labelled "outbreak" and the whole world coloured in red labelled "pandemic"

Social distancing

So now we know how serious it is, we all have a responsibility to take steps to slow it down.

One of the phrases I’ve heard for the first time during this pandemic is “social distancing.”

What is it?

Well, we can figure out the meaning from the phrase, right?

It means staying further away from other people than usual.

It might be implemented by a company or a government, like what we’re seeing in Italy and Spain at the moment, or it might be self-prescribed, like it is with a lot of people in the UK and the US at the moment.

How can I use it?

“Social distancing” is often used with the verbs “implement,” “practise” and “exercise.”

“The company implemented social distancing measures and told everyone to work from home.”

“Do you practise social distancing?”

“We’re trying to exercise social distancing as much as we can. I advise you to do the same.”


What is it?

So this is a type of social distancing.

It’s basically when you stay at home and avoid making any physical contact with anyone.

How can I use it?

We usually talk about going into self-isolation:

“As soon as I’ve done shopping, I’m going into self-isolation. See you on Skype!”

Then, for as long as it takes, you’re just in self-isolation.

“We’ve been in self-isolation for just four days, and I’m already starting to lose the plot!”

Finally, with your hair longer, your drawing skills better and your Netflix knowledge upgraded, you can emerge from self-isolation.

“When we finally emerged from self-isolation, we knew the world wouldn’t be the same again.”

Three-part comic: image 1 titled "go into self-isolation" shows a waving stick figure walking into a house. Image 2 titled "be in self-isolation" shows a stick figure in a living room looking out the window. Image 3 titled "emerge from self-isolation" shows a stick figure running out of a house shouting "freedom!"

On lockdown

What is it?

That’s it!

The government has closed the schools, banned gigs and walking in the street, and we have to stay inside!

We’re on lockdown!

How can I use it?

The government can put the country on lockdown:

“They didn’t put the country on lockdown for weeks. By then it was too late!”

“We’ve been put on lockdown. Time to leave the pub!”

When it’s happening, you just use the verb “be.”

“Yeah — we’re still on lockdown. Looks like it’s going to be a while. Time to get the Scrabble board out!”

Flatten the curve

What is it?

OK. This one is really useful.

When you’re sitting through your seventh HBO drama, and you’ve walked around your living room for the 400th time, you might start to wonder whether it’s all really worth it.

And when you do, think of this graph:

Graph showing time (X-axis) and number of cases (y-axis) with a high, narrow curve

This represents the number of COVID-19 cases there would be if nobody did anything to stop it — without any self-isolation, social distancing, hand washing, elbow bumps.

OK. Pretty bad, right?

Then, think of this graph:

Graph showing time (X-axis) and number of cases (y-axis) with a low, wide curve

Much better, right?

This graph is the one we want, right?

So when we implement self-isolation and social distancing and hand washing and all the other measures, we’re doing it to flatten the curve.

In other words, to make sure reality matches the second graph as much as we can.

This is our goal! And it can only be obtained collectively.

How can I use it?

Well, it’s a verb, so it’s flexible:

“We can only flatten the curve if we all work together.”

“I just wish there was more I could do to help flatten the curve.”

“It’s all about flattening the curve, baby!”


What is it?

Put simply, a super-spreader (or superspreader) is someone who spreads the virus more than most other people.

Sometimes it isn’t that person’s fault — it’s just something about their biology that means you can get the virus from them more easily than from other people.

OK. I hope you found this useful.

But before you go, tell me your best tips for things to do while we’re in self-isolation.

What do you do to keep your mind active and inspired while you can’t leave the house?

In the spirit of solidarity, let’s share our ideas and help each other out!

Answer in the comments.

34 thoughts on “9 Words and Phrases to Help You Talk About Coronavirus

  1. Hi Gabriel!
    Thanks for sharing this with us.
    I mainly play games with my kids, train them to practice the religion and browse the internet.

    1. Hier Gabriel, thank you for the new vocab items. I wonder if you have the word for the place that is completely isolated due to the disease.

      1. Hi Mehdi,

        Thanks for the positive feedback.

        I think what you’re referring to is “quarantine.”

        It’s used as a place, even when we’re kind of referring to the state: “She needs to be in quarantine for a couple of weeks.”

        Hope that helps!

  2. Awesome! It’s very useful for all us here we could see new phrasal words and also by showing them we might learn how to safe ourselves from COVID 19.
    Thank you so much

  3. Hello everyone. I started drawing and haven’t drawn since elementary school and can say I am a good at copying of Picasso. I also practice daily, read books, and try to learn English as much as I can. I started learning to make some new hairstyles as well and I can’t wait for Easter to be able to make cakes and decorations. Stay home and be safe.

  4. Hai Have a nice day all of you.
    I usually play games or home schooling because i’m still in secondary/junior high school.

  5. I am teaching English online and love your posts! :) Thank you!
    One of the things we can do is to learn a new skill, do a free course of some kind online, read, cook creatively :), and write supportive or thank you notes to various people for all kinds of things they have helped us with :).

    1. Thanks for sharing Kristina.

      I totally agree! I’ve been challenging myself with working on a podcast and going out of my comfort zone with Facebook live videos.

      I also agree that it’s a time of solidarity and we should be reaching out to the people we depend on for whatever reason.

      Thanks again for your inspiring comment! :)

  6. Gabriel, I think your virus words & usage are perfect. I use this time for reflection while I reorganize my craft room. I am an American living in Colorado. I am 65 & learn things about my language that I never heard before! I love receiving your email newsletters. I share them with my 18 year old twin grandsons. They always say why didn’t we learn that in our English class.
    Thank you for all your work & fabulous information.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Kandy.

      It was really nice to hear that first language speakers like yourself and your grandsons are getting something out of this blog and that we’re making a difference to so many nationalities and generations. I really appreciate the positive message.

      Stay safe!


  7. That’s undoubtedly a worthy dose of laughter?Thanks for brightening up my day! Could you make a lesson about terms related to economy? That’s what suffering too, right. Good day! Take care, stay safe…

  8. I found this article really useful. Thank you.
    While self-isolated, I’ve been painting, drawing and organising my wardrobe!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Mirian.

      I love drawing and painting — it’s very therapeutic and can be super calming in times of stress

      I still need to organise my wardrobe! :D

  9. Dear sir, Thank you so much for the lecture about current sitution. Got wonderful knowledge. I am a research student but staying home self isoalted. I spend most of time reading and doing research and recently i have started waching Sharlock holmes episodes to increase my learning skills. Hope everything will be better soon. thanks

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      Yes — it’s a great time to take it easy, find a quiet part of the house and get into some research. I’m actually doing the same, researching different teaching styles.

      Those Sherlock Holmes episodes are great! I guess you’re watching the newer ones with Benedict Cumberbatch?

  10. Thanks for this new vocabulary that appeared after the virus!
    we have organized a routine to try to do as much as we can ,and everybody helps!

  11. Hi, Gabriel! Can you tell us more about those superspreaders? I mean, is it about their specific behavior, like spitting when talking, or their physiology?

  12. Hi, Gabriel, thank you so much for the information. I’m studying English as my major subject in my university. And during this situation I feel really stressed, and sad because I can’t meet my lecturer and friends. Online studying is not really effective to me. I hope this virus will end soon.

    1. Me too.

      It isn’t easy to make the transition to online and, of course, face-to-face is always better.

      I think it’s best, in difficult situations, to approach the new difficulties as challenges. See how strong we can be! That sort of thing.

      I hope that helps …

  13. that was excellent, especially “emerge from self-isolation”. We really aren’t the same people before isolation.

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