Jargon and slang – COVID-19 changed our language

Jargon, slang and COVID-19

Jargon and slang related to COVID-19 changed the language of Australia. It happened almost as fast as the novel coronovirus which causes the disease that devastated populations spread across the world. Everyone learnt and began to use the formal and informal languages quickly.

We rarely use jargon words and slang in the same context. Rarely do they evolve together. Even more rarely do they become intertwined in the way COVID-19 language has in the last few months.

Difference between jargon and slang

The seriousness of jargon (and often its pretentiousness) contrasts with the silliness and fun of slang although they both tend to bind people together.

The novel corona virus which causes COVID-19 brought with it a specific new vocabulary and generated heaps of slang.

Many images exist of the virus but they all depict an imaginary item. My favourite looks as if someone crocheted it from wool. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which has provided consistently good coverage of the coronavirus news, adopted the symbol early.


Jargon, the language used in a specific context, can often be difficult to understand. The words relate to a specific activity or profession, such as the vocabulary of art, science, technology, a trade or sport.

Jargon consists of powerful words claimed and used by specialists and practitioners of a profession or activity.

Formal jargon can be written as well as spoken. The words have specific meanings which do not change over time, but become embedded in the language.


Australians love slang. We speak a language peppered with slang words which evolve over time. Most slang words disappear, and new ones take their place.

People of similar social backgrounds and age groups use the same kind of informal social language. Slang starts when people give an old word a new meaning or coin a new one. This informal language doesn’t usually find its way into books or documents.

Instead, slang creates a sense of fun. It also creates a sense of belonging and shared meaning. This can be empowering especially when fear of the virus and of economic uncertainty exist.


We’ve been on a steep learning curve since the first case of COVID-19 occurred in Australia on 25 January, 2020. I’ve only ever learned words at this rate during my undergraduate degree. Every new subject came with its own raft of new words.

The lists of jargon and slang words below just scratch the surface.

Serious words (jargon)

ACE2 The protein on the cells in our airways to which the coronavirus attaches.

Case fatality rate The percentage of confirmed cases that result in death.

COVID-19 The name of the disease, not the virus which causes the disease.

Flattening the curve The attempt to reduce how many cases of COVID-19 occur at the same time. It prevents overwhelming hospitals, staff and equipment.

Incubation period Most of us knew what that meant. The difference is that we all became experts about how long the period can be.

N95 mask Respirator masks which filter the air being breathed in. They reduce the chance of someone being infected by filtering out 95% of airborne particles.

PCR test The swab test taken from the mucous lining of the nose and throat to discover if a person has the virus in their body.

PPE Personal protective equipment, including masks, goggles, gowns and gloves necessary to keep healthcare staff safe. Widespread shortages caused countries to scrabble where they could to get what they needed. Local manufacturers stepped up.

Quarantine Governments use quarantine to stop the spread of contagious diseases. People or groups who don’t have symptoms but were exposed to the sickness keep strictly away from others so they don’t unknowingly infect anyone. Used in Australia for people arriving on ships or on flights from all other countries and later from interstate.

RO The average number of people a sick person will affect. The RO of the new coronavirus is between two and three. That means that each infected person will infect two or three others. It spreads quickly.

SARS-CoV-2 The virus which causes COVID-19. The original name, 2019-nCoV, was changed by the Coronavirus Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. Some name!

Second Wave The Australian government anticipates that as it lifts restrictions on people’s freedom, there will be a surge in the number of cases of the disease.

Self-isolation Staying home and keeping separate from others. It prevents the spread of the disease. Outings to shop for essentials, attend medical appointments and exercise permitted. Especially important for vulnerable people. As restrictions for the general society are gradually lifted, perhaps older and vulnerable people might do well to stay in self-isolation.

My favourite self-isolation picture of today, Mothers’ Day tulips on my dressing table:

Social distancing The requirement to stay 1.5 metres from another person. This should have been called physical distancing. No hugs, kisses, touch or handshakes.

Fun words (Slang)

Covidiot A slang insult for a person who disregards safety measures or goes against health advice.

Covidient A person who follows all the rules and regulations related to the pandemic.

Iso or lockdown Self-isolation, or staying home except for shopping for essentials, health care and exercise.

Magpie Supermarket hoarder. Toilet paper, staples like rice and pasta, hand sanitizer, disinfectant walked off supermarket shelves.

Patient Zero A stigmatising term for the first known case of a disease.

Quazzi Quarantine.

Quarantini A cocktail drunk at home under quarantine. Obviously a mix of quarantine and martini, but now used as a term for any drink.

Rona Self explanatory

Sanni Hand sanitizer

Zoom-bombing This occurs when an uninvited guest gate-crashes a virtual meeting and takes control of it.

Zumping The name given to relationship break-ups in a time of social distancing. Slang for dumping someone over Zoom or any video calling service.

Here are links to some other blogs about epidemics

The future

Jargon and slang will evolve and develop around the coronavirus and the disease, COVID-19 for months if not years. We will continue to marvel at this once in a century disease that came almost out of the blue to devastate much of the world.

I’d love to add to my lists, so if you can, please add words in the comments.

7 replies on “Jargon and slang – COVID-19 changed our language”

  1. I’ve heard the official vocabulary before, but not any of the slang words. You’re right Australia is known for making up and using more slang words than other countries. I’ve only just found out what rellies means!

    1. It’s part of our colonial history, I think, Sue, a sort of rebellion against authority and a way to make fun of it and of ourselves. I’m also interested that on the whole we are a compliant population and although people grumble about the restrictions, they still mostly stay home and self isolate and maintain social distance.

  2. I laughed at ‘zumping’ – so funny how these new terms develop.

    Lovely to hear you are keeping well and constantly learning new things to teach us all!


    1. Hi, Fiona. Yes, zumping is one of my favourites so far. And as soon as I posted, I remembered that ‘bubble’ has taken on a whole new meaning. Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. I appreciate it. Stay safe and well.

  3. Great Maureen
    You always have something interesting to say.
    I had heard a lot of them but not all and indeed there were a few surprises e.g.

    Covidiot A slang insult for a person who disregards safety measures or goes against health advice.

    Covidient A person who follows all the rules and regulations related to the pandemic.
    I thought those expressions were very apt, especially ‘Covidiot’.

    I went out yesterday and there were a variety of ‘Covenients’ and ‘Covidiots’

    Contrastingly, I was lucky to have lunch in Leederville last week at a place called Sayers. It served delicious food, in fact exceptional and to boot, I was surprised to see how strict they were about social distancing. So this was great to witness and also good to know about if you are looking for a nice, safe lunch venue.

    Thanks for the Blog Maureen, as always very interesting

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tricia. I’m glad you found it interesting. I love the way new words evolve, especially in relation to events. This time last year we would never have even imagined that we’d have a whole new vocabulary that everyone in our society understood and used. There have been many new words since I wrote that blog, too. I could look them up and add them, just for fun.

      Sayers sounds wonderful. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting lunch places. I’ll check it out! Mxx

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