13 Words Or Phrases That Would Totally Confuse Pre-COVID Us

For better or worse, 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic have expanded our vocabulary. (Mostly for the worse, let's be real.)
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost; Photos: Getty

Ah, 2019 us. So young(ish), so innocent, so unfamiliar with the pandemic to come and all the weird, newfangled slang and terminology that would accompany it.

In the time since COVID-19 swept the globe and inalterably changed our lives, we’ve collectively been introduced to phrases and words that would confuse the hell out of us in 2019.

Covidiot? A put-down that could only come from 2020.

Below, 13 words and phrases we picked up over the last year (in most cases, we’d be glad to never hear about them again).

Flattening the curve

Like the incessant “just say no” anti-drug messaging in the Reagan era, we were all inundated with pleas from public officials to “flatten the curve” at the beginning of the pandemic.

The curve, we soon learned, was simply the number of people who contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, over a period of time. Luckily many a graphic designer sprung into action and created visuals to explain how flattening the curve works.

Community spread

When public health experts talk about a rise in “community spread,” they’re saying that so many people have been infected by the virus in an area, it’s hard to pinpoint where someone caught it.


Prior to March 2020, if you thought of the word “zoom” at all, you might have recalled the ’70s era kids PBS TV show “Zoom” that featured a diverse, United Colors of Benetton-esque cast.

Today, Zoom is widely recognized as the video conferencing platform so many of us use to communicate with friends and coworkers for happy hours and meetings. It was kind of fun at first ― who doesn’t like to quietly judge their coworkers’ apartments and homes? ― but now we all hate it. (We also all wish we would have invested in Zoom prior to the pandemic; we’d probably be making Oprah money right now if we had.)


This year gave us a lot to mentally grapple with: a global pandemic; civil unrest over racial inequality and police violence; a high-stakes presidential election that felt like it lasted a decade.

We should have taken a mental break from our phones and often unplugged. Instead, we spent most of our nights “doomscrolling” ― in other words, endlessly checking social media and reading lots and lots of bad news.


Way back in the salad days of January 2020 (feels like decades, no?), Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they were leaving their positions as senior members of the royal family. (Now they’re living in the states and cashing in on those royal titles with Spotify and Netflix deals.)

Somewhat pithily, the British press deemed their departure “Megxit,” a play on Brexit.

Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex said "bye bye" to royal life this year... but <a href="https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/tradition/a30518980/meghan-markle-prince-harry-new-royal-roles-titles/" target="_blank" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-external-link" data-vars-item-name="controversially kept their titles." data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="5fda4eefc5b6f24ae35cd001" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/tradition/a30518980/meghan-markle-prince-harry-new-royal-roles-titles/" data-vars-target-content-type="url" data-vars-type="web_external_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="15">controversially kept their titles.</a>
WPA Pool via Getty Images
Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex said "bye bye" to royal life this year... but controversially kept their titles.

Quarantine fatigue

In 2019, quarantine itself was a fairly foreign concept. After 10 months of social distancing, we’re all too familiar with it. Most of us have felt quarantine fatigue at least a dozen times by now, but we muddle through. That said, some people continue to act as though we’re not living through a global pandemic and go about their daily lives. Which brings us to ...


Macmillian Dictionary defines “covidiot” as “an insulting term for someone who ignores health advice about COVID-19.” Think anti-maskers who protest in large groups. (COVID loves to see it!) Or people who insist on carrying on with their big, blowout wedding plans because, “Guys, it’s my wedding day!”

Quarantine bae

What the hell is a quarantine bae, you ask? A romantic interest you see during lockdown because dating around and hooking up as you normally might is risky business. Your arrangement with this person might best be described as “relationship-ish.” Who knows if it will last past herd immunity...

Herd immunity

Not to be confused with “herd mentality” ― what our outgoing president called it back in September ― herd immunity is when enough of a population becomes immune to a disease, either because they’ve been vaccinated or because they’ve had the disease, recovered and developed immunity.

When we reach herd immunity, it’s unlikely COVID-19 could spread significantly, even if a small proportion of the population is still vulnerable to catching the virus. (We’ve seen this happen in the past with illnesses like polio and chicken pox.)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, recently said that he predicts herd immunity for U.S. by late spring or early summer.


Perfectly suited to our forced, strictly homebody existence, cottagecore is a Gen Z-beloved aesthetic that’s all about mining our pastoral past: think dreamy countryside scenes, calico tea cozies, farm animals and peasant dresses. (As the subreddit, r/cottagecore, explains the look, it’s “your grandma, but like, hip.”) Activity-wise, think gardening and baking your own sourdough bread.

“As a concept, it embraces a simpler, sustainable existence that is more harmonious with nature. Aesthetically, it’s a nod to the traditional English countryside style, romantic and nostalgic,” Davina Ogilvie, founder of Wovn Home, a start-up that makes custom window treatments, told Architectural Digest in October.

Loosely, you could also see how cottagecore could be applied to playing “Animal Crossing,” everyone’s twee favorite pandemic pastime, or listening to Taylor Swift’s twin indie-folk albums. Basically, in these “trying times”™ we’re all looking for some sweet, hygge-esque escapism.

Super-spreader event

Super-spreader events occur when a person with COVID-19 passes the virus onto 10 or more people because of close contact and/or poor ventilation in an enclosed space. So far, super-spreaders events have included weddings, nightclubs and bars, meatpacking plants, prisons ― and White House celebration parties with nary a mask in sight.

Pandemic pod (or social bubbles)

To socialize safety, many of us formed pandemic bubbles — small groups of family and/or friends who agree to avoid close, indoor contact with anyone else but the defined itty bitty group. (If you’re among the folks whose pandemic pod got a little too big over the last few months, here’s some helpful advice on how to close it up again without hurting anyone’s feelings.)


Working from home has seriously warped our sense of time. Is it August or December? Is it Tuesday or Thursday? A weekday or a nominally different weekend?

“Blursday” refers to our collective inability to determine what day of the week it is. May we never experience a Blursday ever again once this thing is over.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.

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