Neologism and Covid-19. Why do we use different terms for the same novel disease?

Term Paper, 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 1.0



Albert-Ludwig-Universität Freiburg

Philologische Fakultät

Englisches Seminar

Introduction to Linguistics

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 3

2. Literature review 4

3. Methodology 5

4. Data analysis and results 5

4.1 Comparison of appearance 6

4.2 Collocations 7

5. Discussion 9

6. Conclusion 10

7. Appendix 12

8. Sources and references 13

1. Introduction

Our lives are currently turned upside down, as nothing works as it normally would, due to the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Starting as an unknown but severe respiratory disease in Wuhan in China in December 2019, it wasn´t until January 2020 that the virus had been identified as the so called Covid -19. The symptoms are highly variable and range from faint cold-like experiences up to severe respiratory distress and in many cases even death. By spreading over the country´s borders it soon was detected in many different states around the globe. With fast rising infections and daunting increasing death numbers, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was obligated to announce a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and later in March to update the term to a global pandemic. Considering the state of emergency, many preventative measures were implemented by governments to contain the outbreak and save the population from the disease. These measures had a devastating impact on nearly every aspect of life, for people all over the world: huge sport events like the Olympic Games were postponed, people were requested to work from home and to minimize their contact to people outside their household, new hygiene rules instructed everyone to wear masks and even schools were closed. Suddenly the whole world was locked down.

All the mentioned aspects lead to severe changes in people´s lives and with changing their daily routines, linguists could also detect differences in language: new words, phrases and expressions expanded the vocabulary. Many neologisms emerged to fill in gaps, which developed by opening a whole new field of science. Therefore the coinage of words enabled people to reflect and process their individual experiences of the new life in lockdown. From the perspective of a linguist, this last aspect is especially meaningful, as it demonstrates the dynamic potential of language, dependant on various variable factors (cf. Katherine B. Akut 2020: 2). Most emerging words are used to describe new daily routines in presence of the virus in order to cope in this crisis. However, this study is going to have a closer look on the virus itself and the phenomenon, that this one virus is depicted through many different neologisms. Even though the words “Coronavirus, Covid-19, Rona and Sars-CoV-2“ refer to the same disease, they are used in slightly different context throughout the media. After scanning previous literature concerning this topic, I was able to formulate the following hypothesis:

1. The different terms fit different academic levels and are used in distinctive situations. (e.g. “Sars-CoV-2“ main use in scientific fields, “Rona“ more informal in everyday expressions)

2. The shorter a word is, the more it is used to refer to the virus.

Therefore, in the following, this paper will focus on why we use all these different terms synchronously to refer to one novel disease. Moreover, this paper will have a look at the differences between the words, in which context and how often they are used.

2. Literature review

A few weeks back, the beginning of January, marked the first anniversary of the first reported Covid-19 case in Wuhan, China. Since then, many things have changed, for instance the preventative measures taken by the governments to contain the virus in each country and mainly the decreasing patience from some people, who wonder, when life will be normal again. While Germany is still in lockdown, people in Sweden are allowed to go to cafés and in the USA face masks aren´t even mandatory. But no matter where people are living, the virus with its devastating high death tolls are perpetually present, which makes it a welcomed and omnipresent headline in the media. Thus, it came to me, that looking at the different terms that are used in media would be an interesting idea to take a closer look at. By reviewing related studies the expressions “Coronavirus, Rona, Covid-19 and Sars-CoV-2“stood out, as they were used frequently to describe the novel disease but seldom distinguished by their exact divergence. On these grounds, this study will examine the word formation process from each of the four words, as well as their precise meaning and then move on to the context they are used in. As a result, a slight difference should be identifiable by looking at the distinctive situation they occur in and collocations they appear with.

In comparison to other linguistic research fields, the corona pandemic describes a rather short period of time for big studies to be done or many articles to be published. Nonetheless, the topic of neologisms in times of Covid-19 already drew the attention of a few linguists before. However, most studies focused on neologisms used by the broad population in order to describe the new every-day-life. At any rate, there weren´t any similar publications that concentrated exclusively on the different terms for the disease. Therefore it was not really possible to work with the shortcomings of previous research, as they are not genuinely related to the research question of this paper.

Still, a very helpful paper doing this research, was “Linguistic Analysis of Neologism related to Coronavirus (COVID-19)“, written by Muhammad Asif, Deng Zhiyong, Anila Iram, Maria Nisar. Although, the study focused more on giving an overview on the sociolinguistic aspects as well as on the frequency of corona related expressions, it did indeed mention the increasing appearance of the terms “Covid-19 and Coronavirus“. Unfortunately, the paper did not go into further detail, for example on why the different terms are used unequally.

3. Methodology

To acquire the necessary data, I started by looking for studies that worked with similar ideas of neologism in times of Covid-19 as mine. However, as these often specialised in other aspects of this research field, I solely was able to use them to get an overview over the various newly built neologisms.

Main resource for this study is the Coronavirus Corpus, which contains over 892 million words from more than 20 countries. The collected data predominately consists of a diverse range of newspaper articles that are being collected since January 2020. In order of being able to compare the frequency of “Coronavirus, Rona, Covid-19 and Sars-CoV-2“, I simply searched for the number of appearances of the chosen words.

For the second part of research I started looking at various collocations occurring directly before or behind one of the terms. To narrow it down to a feasible amount, I chose around the five most frequent collocations for each word and was therefore able to compare their use in context.

4. Data analysis and results

A neologism is defined, according to Bußmann (1990: 520), as a newly formed expression that is recognized by at least a part of a language community, if not even recognized in general, to label new concepts in various parts of life. Consequently, the terms “Coronavirus, Rona, Covid-19 and Sars-Cov-2“ can be denoted as new neologisms which emerged during the pandemic. Although these terms refer all to the same novel disease, they are adopted in distinctive frequency. In the following the accurate results of my research will be displayed.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Neologism and Covid-19. Why do we use different terms for the same novel disease?
University of Freiburg
Introduction to Linguistic
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
Covid-19, Sars-Cov2, Corona-Virus, Neologism
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2020, Neologism and Covid-19. Why do we use different terms for the same novel disease?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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