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coronavirus, COVID-19 terminology

The 2020 novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has introduced several words and terms that we are using in our everyday language. 


This refers to a family of viruses, named for the crownlike spikes on their surfaces. There are many coronaviruses, including the common cold, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). The novel coronavirus that was identified in 2019 is called COVID-19. It is acceptable to use the coronavirus when referring to this particular strain (include the).


We prefer using all caps, per the AP Style Guide and Merriam-Webster. “CO” stands for corona, “VI” for virus, “D” for disease, and  “19” for 2019. 

cancel, canceled, canceling, cancellation

Spell these words with one l, the preferred spelling in American English, as opposed to the British spelling: cancelled, cancelling. 

epidemic, pandemic

An epidemic is the rapid spreading of a disease in a particular region. A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread worldwide.

social distancing

Maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or objects to minimize exposure. Two words, no hyphen.

isolation, quarantine, self-quarantine

Isolation is separating people who are sick from healthy people. Quarantine is restricting movement of healthy people to see if they become ill. Hyphenate self-quarantine, the practice of refraining oneself from contacting other individuals for a period of time. 

For more words and definitions, see’s “A Guide to Coronavirus-Related Words” and “Coronavirus and the New Words We Added to the Dictionary in March 2020.”

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